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  Table of Contents 
Year : 2013  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 87-88

Safe development of nanotechnology: A global challenge

M & OH Consultant, Hindustan Unilever Limited, Mumbai Head Office and Western India, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication17-Apr-2014

Correspondence Address:
Kishore P Madhwani
M & OH Department, Unilever House, B.D. Sawant Marg, Chakala, Andheri East, Mumbai - 400 099
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5278.130833

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How to cite this article:
Madhwani KP. Safe development of nanotechnology: A global challenge. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2013;17:87-8

How to cite this URL:
Madhwani KP. Safe development of nanotechnology: A global challenge. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2013 [cited 2023 Mar 29];17:87-8. Available from:

Nanotechnology is a novel, emerging, exponential, cutting edge technology with fascinating applications that promise scientific advancements for medicine (diagnostics as well as therapeutics), amazing cosmetics, state of the art compact electronic devices, food shelf life enhancers, superior packaging, durable quality clothing, fuel and energy saving devices (to list a few) which will impact our everyday life, making our world a better place to live. It is manipulation of matter on near atomic scale (having a length between 1 and 100 nm) to produce new structures, devices, and systems. However, at this size, the materials start exhibiting new unique properties that affect their physical, chemical and biological behavior (totally different than larger molecules of the same material). Researching, developing and utilizing these properties to form novel products are at the heart of this new technology. These properties raise questions as to potential health effects that might result from occupational exposures during manufacture and use of nanomaterials.

Nanomaterials are today manufactured in developed world and also in medium and low income countries through simple operations. It is estimated that there were 4 lakh workers employed in nanotechnology industries world-wide in 2010 and this number would rise to 6 million by 2020. [1] Geographically, Asia Pacific region will play an important role on economic and societal impacts of nanotechnology, as the most active region for nanotechnology-related manufacturing and as one of the largest markets for nanoproducts. [2] As with any new technology, the earliest and most extensive exposure to hazards occurs at the workplace. It is for this reason; we need to be fully geared to protect workers' health from the health hazards associated with nanoparticle exposure at the workplace.

Two factors make nanoparticles a serious occupational risk:

  1. Size of nanoparticle (cannot be seen by eye or even light microscope) and hence can be inhaled into the lungs and can also cross the blood - brain barrier and placenta. Nanomaterials have proved toxic to human tissue and cell cultures, resulting in increased oxidative stress and inflammatory cytokine production. They have the ability to enter cell mitochondria, causing its structural damage and also enter the cell nucleus with potential to cause DNA mutation, ultimately leading to cell death
  2. Massive surface area - 1 g of nanoparticles has a surface area of 1000 m 2 . This can absorb toxins and be transported into the body. As size decreases and reactivity increases, the harmful effects are intensified as a result of which normally harmless substances may assume hazardous characteristics. To answer these questions, occupational health physicians need to fill significant gaps in current knowledge.

Toxicological laboratory studies on animals have shown adverse effects such as inflammation and fibrosis in lungs resulting from exposures to some nanomaterials. Carbon nanotubes are classified as hazardous as they are suspected of causing cancer and may cause damage to respiratory system on prolonged inhalation exposure. [3] Although reliable results of studies on human exposure and response to manufactured nanomaterials are not currently available and more research is needed to predict the effects of nanomaterial exposures on humans, there is still sufficient information to provide interim recommendations and guidance on prudent approaches to handling nanomaterials at the workplace. In India, the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research Center, Lucknow has published a guidance document for safe handling of nanomaterials for the Indian Nanotechnology Industry. [4]

Including safety as an integral element in business thinking would mean enhanced understanding of the benefits of safety for realizing the promises of nanotechnologies. The agenda for nanotechnology safety should focus on: (1) Development of monitoring methods for nanomaterials and building of a database on nanomaterials. (2) Nanotoxicology and associated safety systems.(3) International cooperation and partnerships between interested parties.This means that we need to first identify and assess the hazards associated in the manufacture and handling of nanoparticles, assess measurement of exposure amongst workers, consumers and the environment. Subsequently, we need to concentrate on risk characterization and risk management by control banding. [5] The most recent approaches include the promotion of safe by design (prevention through design) thinking throughout the whole life-cycle of these materials, from planning, through design, to production.

The challenge faced by the occupational health fraternity is immense because apart from the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOSH), USA, various countries have laid down different standards for exposure assessment of nanoparticles. Australia follows Workplace Exposure Standards for engineered nanomaterials, whereas NIOSH, USA has published Recommended Exposure Limits for engineered nanomaterials and both standards vary as they are based on the size of nanomaterial in use in the respective countries. Hence, WHO has taken up the task to develop guidelines (to be released in 2014) on exposure assessment standards that would appeal universally to all countries including the medium and low economy country groups. It has identified exposure to manufactured nanomaterials as a priority action for the Global Plan of Action on Workers' Health, adopted in 2007. As the first step in this project, WHO established a Guideline Development Group for this project in 2012 so as to formulate guidelines that will be based on minimum requirements and consider step-wise risk-reducing conditions, allowing applications of guidelines in countries at various stages of development and at different starting points. [6]

Hence with the advent of this revolutionary, powerful and transformative nanotechnology, our occupational health fraternity faces the challenge of eliminating the occupational and environmental health hazards as a consequence of nanomaterial manufacturing, research and use of nanotechnology products. As far as India is concerned, a collaborative approach by Ministry of Health, ITRC (Lucknow), IIT (Powai) and IAOH to address this futuristic challenge needs to be explored. Globally, in order to ensure sustainable development of this useful and high potential technology, a proper governance system needs to be established. To achieve this objective, a global agreement is essential on the harmonization of safety and hazard governance of nanotechnologies and engineered nanomaterials: A global challenge requires global approaches and a global solution.

  References Top

1.Available from: http// - facts. [Last accessed date 4 th March 2014.]  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Sonsivilai S. The Emergence of Nanotechnology and The Importance of Risk Governance. Asia Pac Newsl Occup Health Saf 2012;19:59.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Morris H, NICNAS. Safe Work Australia's Work on Nanotechnology Work Health and Safety. Human Health Hazard Assessment and Classification of Carbon Nanotubes.(Safe Work Australia).Asia Pacific Newsletter on Occupational Health and Safety.2012;19:62-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Dhawan A, Shanker R, Das M, Gupta KC. Guidance for Safe Handling of Nanomaterials. J Biomed Nanotechnol 2011;7:218-24.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Lee N, OSHRI, KOSHA. Nanotechnology and Occupational Health in Korea. Asia Pacific Newsletter on Occupational Health and Safety 2012;19:60-1.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Murashov V, NIOSH, WHO Guidelines on Nanomaterials and Workers' Health. Asia Pacific Newsletter on Occupational Health and Safety 2012;19:66-7.  Back to cited text no. 6

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