Not enough is being done to evaluate whether tiny airborne
nanoparticles are damaging people’s health, according to a former
Manchester University scientist.
Nanoparticles of substances such as iron and copper are produced by
industrial and waste management processes and car emissions.
They are found in products ranging from tennis racquets to paints,
and also occur naturally. Critically, nanoparticles are so small –
less than a billionth of a metre – that can often possess properties
that are different from the bulk material from which they are drawn.
Scientists have suggested that nanoparticles could be associated with
heart attacks, asthma and a worsening of the condition in people with
Last year new EU legislation reduced the level at which particulate
matter (pm) is regulated from 10 to 2.5pm in diameter. But former
research fellow Graham Cliff believes public bodies don’t have the
equipment to do so.
The Environment Agency uses the well know method of light microscopy
to assess particles. But Cliff said: “This cannot chemically analyse
small particles, reducing our understanding of what is in the air.”
Cliff pointed out that that the initial failure to regulate asbestos
particles below 10pm led to thousands of deaths from mesothelioma
He said: “Cliff said: “We know that in 1947 scientists were
instructed to ignore nanoparticles and then in the 1970s Professor
John A Chandler from the Cardiff University Cancer Research Institute
was restricted from analysing particles below 10pm because they were
considered too small to do any damage.
“Although it’s now accepted that’s not the case the very same
argument is being used with regard to nanoparticles down to 1pm.”
Three years ago at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital tests were carried out
on seven young women exposed to nanoparticles in paint in their
workplace for up to 13 months. Suffering from shortness of breath and
excess fluids in their lungs, the women, two of whom died, were
tested, with doctors concluding that “long-term exposure to some
nanoparticles without protective measures may be related to serious
damage to human lungs.”
Here in Britain Professor Patrick Case from Bristol University
believes that “nanoparticles may cause DNA damage” and Professor
Raymond Agius from Manchester University has suggested that
“aggravation of dementia” may be a symptom. Cliff claimed other
scientists fear that nanoparticles are contributing to heart attacks
and a general rise in asthma amongst the public.
Yet Britain lags behind China and the US in assessing the possible
health effects of human exposure to nanoparticles. The Health
Protection Agency did establish a Nanotoxicology Research Centre in
2008 in Oxfordshire – using sophisticated electron microscopes
costing up to £3 million each – but could not say when it would issue
But a Health Protection Agency spokesperson said this technique might
not be suitable for other government departments. “It is not clear
that electron microscopy would be the most appropriate technique for
the Environment Agency to use to evaluate nanoparticles,” said the