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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.
Nanotechnology refers to controlling matter at an atomic or molecular scale measured in nanometers, or millionths of millimeters. In the food industry, the technology could have a variety of uses including detecting bacteria in packaging, nano-coating processing equipment to stay cleaner for longer or producing stronger flavours and colourings.
While huge potential gains are driving burgeoning investment, the technology itself s relatively new and scientists still have much to learn about nanoparticles. 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."
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.
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."