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April 6, 2009

EU-OSHA Report on Emerging Chemical Risks Includes Nanoparticles

Lynn L. Bergeson

On March 18, 2009, the European Union’s European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) announced the results of a report entitled Expert Forecast on Emerging Chemical Risks Related to Occupational Safety And Health. According to the Agency, “[c]ontact with a wide range of chemicals and other hazardous substances at work is endangering the health of workers across Europe, and nanotechnology is one of the risks causing most concern to experts from 21 European countries.” The report identifies the main groups of substances that could pose new and increasing risks to workers, contributing to diseases ranging from allergies, asthma, and infertility to cancer.

The factsheet includes the following information regarding nanoparticles:

Nanoparticles (NPs) are already used in many applications. NPs can have very different properties from the same materials at the macro scale. Little research attention has been paid to health and safety issues but it is certain that NPs can enter the human body. Although the degree of damage is still unknown, there are indications that they can cause toxicity, cardiopulmonary effects, modification of protein structures, autoimmune effects, oxidative stress and cancers. There is a need to determine the physicochemical, toxicological and behavioural properties of each type of NP and to develop reliable methods for their detection and measurement in the environment as well as in the human body. Although quantitative data are lacking, sufficient information is available to begin preliminary assessment and to develop interim working practices to reduce workplace exposure.