By Savannah Volkoff

After an exciting month of #OctoberBlogFest and exploring the topic of flame retardants (potential impacts of exposure and regulations, part 1 and 2, influencing the issue), ToxInsider will be spending the next month or so talking about nanotechnology.

Why nano?

Nanoparticles are used in many consumer products, which means humans may be regularly exposed to them – and right now, very little is known about how nanoparticles may affect health.

The presence of nanoparticles in consumer products also means they will end up in the environment at some point in their life cycle…again, very little is known about how they may affect ecosystem health.

Finally, scientists are trying to find new uses for these particles. Nanoparticles have very interesting chemistry and may be useful tools for solving all types of problems ranging from medical to environmental.

Nano @ Duke

One of our research projects at the Duke Superfund Research Center is primarily exploring the use of metal based-nanoparticles for groundwater and surface water remediation. The scientists working on this project are trying to understand if nanoparticles can be used alongside naturally occurring microbes to clean up polluted sites or, if using nanoparticles at polluted sites is really just making the problem worse.

Nanoparticles 101

But before we dive into our monthly focus of nanoparticle use for remediation, we have to familiarize ourselves with the basics: What are nanoparticles? Are they already used and if so, for what? How often do I come into contact with nanoparticles?

To answer the first question: a nanoparticle is something that is 10-9 or one-billionth its normal size! For a quick look at the size of the nanoparticle, check out this video, “How Small is a Nanoparticle?”. Nanoparticles can be metals or carbon based (as nanotubes or nanofibers). Examples of nanoparticles can be found in diesel exhaust or aerosol sprays but also in everyday consumer products such as makeup, sunscreen, textiles, paints, electronics, and many more! Because they are used in so many things, people want to know, can these tiny particles harm my family or me?

In addition to private research facilities across the globe that are looking at nanoparticles for a variety of uses, USEPA is doing its own research to answer questions about the potential effects of nanoparticles on human and ecosystem health, as well as developing technology for nanoparticle/nanomaterial detection, quantification, and characterization.

While this story is still unfolding, groups like Environmental Working Group  are erring on the safe side and advocating for much more research to be conducted before nanoparticle-containing products are introduced on the market.

These little particles are stirring up a big debate and ToxInsider will be diving right in to explore the concerns and the potential uses of nanoparticles in remediation, consumer products, and the disposal of handle nano-waste. We hope you’re looking forward to #NaNovember as much as we are!