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New ISO standard gauges nano-toxicity risks

By Rory Harrington and Katie Bird , 31-Jan-2011
Last updated on 31-Jan-2011 at 16:44 GMT

New guidelines from the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) have been published in a bid to help key industry players assess the possible risks presented by the burgeoning growth of nano-based products.

The Swiss body said the speedy growth of nanotechnology in the food, cosmetics, IT and medical sectors has led to increasing concern from researchers, manufacturers, regulators and consumers over their potential impact on the environment and on workers exposed to them.

In the cosmetics industry nano particles are used in many sun care products, as the smaller particle size can help increase the protection afforded by UV filters, as well as in anti-aging products and delivery systems.

Inhalation toxicity

While huge potential gains are driving burgeoning investment, the technology itself is relatively new and scientists still have much to learn. The ISO said its new standard is designed further that understanding and in particular help support inhalation toxicity testing of nanoparticles.

“With the rapid expansion of nanotechnology applications comes a growing risk of exposure to potentially toxic substances, especially for workers in nanotechnology-based industries,” said Dr Peter Hatto, chair of the standard committee.

“Moreover, if airborne nanoparticles were liberated from products, the general public could also be affected. Ensuring the safety of these particles is therefore paramount for the well-being of workers and consumers,” he added.

The new standard, ISO 10808:2010, Nanotechnologies – Characterization of nanoparticles in inhalation exposure chambers for inhalation toxicity testing - helps ensure that the results of analysis used to establish inhalation toxicity of airborne nanoparticles are reliable and harmonized worldwide.

Non-traditional methods

Dr Hatto added that to test inhalation toxicity it had been necessary to monitor concentration, size and size-distribution of nanoscale particles in an inhalation chamber.

“Traditional methods used in other areas are considered insufficient for testing nanoparticles since parameters specific to them like particle surface area or number, might be crucial determinants of toxicity,” he said. “ISO 10808 takes into account the particular characteristics and potential risks of nanoparticles, and is thus an important asset to the industry.”

The techniques used include differential mobility analysing system (DMAS), for determining particle number, size, size-distribution, surface area and estimated mass dose, as well as morphological examination using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) or scanning electron microscopy (SEM) equipped with an energy dispersive X-ray analyser (EDXA) for chemical composition.

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