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Nanotechnology is currently being used in a wide variety of consumer products and applications. While many of these nanotechnologies are promising in their abilities to improve upon current products, little is known about their potential health hazards. Review the most frequently asked questions about nanotechnology to learn the facts about this burgeoning field.

What is Nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is the engineering of products on a molecular scale. Any chemical or structure that results from the alteration of matter at the nanometer level is considered to be the product of nanotechnology. These nanoproducts are specifically designed to have new properties that make them desirable over traditional products. Though nanotechnology has been around for centuries, the field of study related to the practice is a fairly new phenomenon.

What Are Some Examples of Nanoproducts? There are literally hundreds of nanoproducts currently on the consumer market. For example, nanoscale titanium dioxide is used in a number of cosmetics and sunblock products. Other nanochemicals are being used to create wrinkle-free clothing, optical fibers and long-lasting coatings for golf balls. A variety of electronics make use of nanotechnology. Other industries with a large number of nanoproducts include pharmaceuticals, magnetics, optoelectronics and chemical-mechanical polishing.

What Are The Potential Hazards Associated With Nanoparticles? Though widely available, very little research has been done into the potential health risks associated with nanoparticles. For example, it is yet unclear whether or not nanoscale titanium dioxide present in makeup and sunscreen is absorbed into the skin. If such particles are absorbed, then damage to the underlying skin tissue may occur. Similar health concerns pertain to human contact with other nanoparticles, as well. A common concern is that the inhalation of nanoparticles fibers may cause cancer. In some studies, the effects of nanoparticle inhalation has resulted in symptoms similar to the inhalation of asbestos – a hazardous material that has been linked to mesothelioma.

Who is Most at Risk for Nanoparticle Hazards? Since most of the concerns related to nanoparticles are related to inhalation, employees who work in manufacturing plants that fabricate nanoproducts are at the highest risk for exposure. To a lesser degree, the end-user of the product may also be at risk for future health concerns.

What Research is Being Conducted About the Safety of Nanotechnology? The scientific research community is currently investigating a number of high-level concerns associated with nanotechnology. For example, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is currently performing research related to the following questions:

  • What are the levels and risks of exposure to workers employed at nanomaterial manufacturing plants?
  • What are the possible health effects associated with nanomaterial production?
  • What preventative measures (i.e. safety equipment, work practices, engineering controls, etc.) are available to minimize exposure?

NIOSH, along with other entities, is also a part of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a program designed to coordinate research efforts across a variety of resources.

What is the Current Level of Nanotechnology Health Risk to Employees? Figures on the extent of potential hazards of nanotechnology in America are currently unknown. However, a 2004 survey conducted by Small Times magazine suggests that more than 24,000 individuals work at companies who solely manufacture nanoproducts.

Resource: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech/faq.html