Poisoned nanotech scientist’s case exposes unknown dangers of new particles

Nanoparticles -- tiny machines that make hundreds of new technologies possible -- may pose significant health risks to workers who are exposed to them.

A report published this week in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine told of a Harvard University study examining the little-known field of nanotoxicology, the potentially poisonous properties of these futuristic substances.

The report told of a 26-year-old chemist who used nickel nanoparticle powder at a work bench with no safety procedures in place such as a breathing mask or ventilation hood. Over time she began having throat irritation, facial flushing and nasal congestion. Her skin began to react to the nickel posts of her earrings and a belt buckle that touched her stomach.

Medical tests showed that the scientist had developed an allergy to nickel. In time, she became unable to return to work due to her recurrent symptoms.

Drs. Shane Journeay and Rose Goldman founded the Nanotechnology Toxicology Consulting and Training Institute (NTCT) to help companies understand and implement safety procedures and protections against potential nanoparticle poisonings.

An NTCT statement said that prior to the new report, the deleterious effects of nanoparticle exposure had only been observed in rats and mice.

"That is what makes this case is so important," the report said. "It provides documented confirmation of a human handling nanoparticles in the workplace and developing health effects, specifically allergic sensitization, breathing problems, and rash. The concern among toxicologists is that these particles may cause unknown effects at even tiny doses and therefore lead to longer term health problems like cancer."

Nanoparticles are being used in virtually every sector of the manufacturing and tech industries. For more information about nanotechnology, watch the video embedded below:

[image of industrial scientist via Shutterstock.com]