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Posted: May 21, 2008
Australian Cancer Council calls for new standards for marketing nanotechnology products
(Nanowerk News) The recent report that suggests some forms of carbon nanotubes could be as harmful as asbestos if inhaled in sufficient quantities (Carbon nanotubes that look like asbestos, behave like asbestos) has prompted The Australian Cancer Council's CEO Professor Ian Olver to call for new standards to manage nanoparticles in consumer products like sunscreen.
Professor Olver warned that we need much more information about the health risks posed by nanoparticles, including whether or not they can be taken up through our skin, before nano sunscreens should be sold commercially.
See the transcript of the interview with Professor Olver on The World Today below.
Calls for more caution over nanotechnology
The World Today, Radio National - Wednesday, May 21, 2008 12:26:00
ELEANOR HALL: There's more evidence today that nanotechnology, which is
already on the market, could be deadly. Concerns about the use of the
technology in food have been around for some time.
Now there's evidence that nanotechnology fibres could lead to
mesothelioma. And the head of the Australian Cancer Council has told The
World Today that there should be standards for the marketing of
Simon Lauder has our report.
SIMON LAUDER: It's a science where the potential for innovation and profit
is inversely proportional to the size of the product, where measurements
are in billionths of metres.
Cylinders made of sheets of carbon atoms are already being used to make
tennis racquets, golf clubs and bicycle handlebars lighter and stronger.
But Dr Andrew Maynard from the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for
Scholars has found 'nanotubes', as they're known, trigger the same
reaction in the lungs of mice as asbestos does, if the tiny fibres are the
ANDREW MAYNARD: If you make these things short and curly, certainly in
terms of producing mesothelioma, they seem to be harmless.
SIMON LAUDER: Do you know whether the products that are on the market
already, incorporating nanotubes have long or short fibres?
ANDREW MAYNARD: Well, that is the fly in the ointment. At the moment it is
virtually impossible to find out exactly what type of carbon nanotube is
used in products so it is very hard to say how safe those products are.
SIMON LAUDER: It's an area of innovation the CSIRO is wading into, with a
new nanotechnology program just getting off the ground, under the watch of
Dr Maxine McCall.
MAXINE MCCALL: There are a lot of gaps in knowledge. There is a lot of
conflicting information regarding carbon nanotubes and so we are treating
them as if they are like asbestos fibres.
SIMON LAUDER: For industry, nanotechnology opens up new possibilities
because the characteristics of a material are so affected by their size.
But that's exactly what worries the nanotechnology campaigner with Friends
of the Earth, Dr Rye Senjen.
She says nanoparticles are being used in more than 100 foods worldwide,
but there are no declaration requirements for manufacturers.
RYE SENJEN: For instance we found a case in Germany where the manufacturer
in fact claimed they weren't using nanoparticles and they called it
„patented technology‰ and so they didn't even have to disclose to the
sausage makers that they were using, what they were using was in fact
nanoparticles, and so it is not just the consumers we are worried about.
We are actually also worried about small business and manufacturers that
they inadvertently might be harming their customers.
SIMON LAUDER: Dr Senjen says the nanotechnology revolution is happening
the wrong way around: commercialisation before regulation.
RYE SENJEN: In Europe they call it "no data, no market" but of course we
follow the American model which says "no data, no problem".
SIMON LAUDER: One unanswered question is whether the particles in
sunscreen can enter skin cells. Dr Maxine McCall says the Nanosafety team
at the CSIRO is planning an experiment involving lifeguards at a Sydney
MAXINE MCCALL: Applying the sun screen to the skin of these people and
determining whether the zinc, the special traceable zinc that is in the
sunscreen appears in their blood and urine over the course of the week and
this in follow up periods.
SIMON LAUDER: If it did, would that be a potential public health concern?
MAXINE MCCALL: If would depend on how much got in and what it might cause.
SIMON LAUDER: Dr McCall says its unknown how many sunscreen products for
sale in Australia contain nanoparticles, but if they have both zinc oxide
and titanium dioxide as ingredients and the cream is clear when it goes
onto your skin, it probably has them.
The CEO of the Australian Cancer Council, Professor Ian Olver, says it
would have been better if the tests had been done before the products were
IAN OLVER: I think there is a concern that nanoparticles could be
affecting the interior structure of cells because they can penetrate. And
so before cosmetics and certain medications that are now coming out in
nanotechnology with small particles release, these sort of tests of safety
should be done.
SIMON LAUDER: In the case of sunscreen, there are only tests being done
just now on humans to work out whether or not the nanoparticles make it
into the skin cells. Is that too late? These products are already on the
IAN OLVER: I think sometimes the information that there could be a danger
comes out after a product has been released and clearly the ideal would be
to do this sort of testing before the release.
SIMON LAUDER: Professor Olver says it's time for the regulations to catch up.
IAN OLVER: Well, I think we should set some standards and we should demand
that some research findings are available before products are released.
ELEANOR HALL: That is the CEO of the Cancer Council, Professor Ian Olver,
speaking to Simon Lauder.
Source: ABC Australia; hat tip to Georgia Miller at Friends of the Earth Australia