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Nov 12, 2008
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Textiles, cosmetics, food... British scientists in urgent call for nanoparticles research

Nov 12, 2008

LONDON, Nov 12, 2008 (AFP) - British scientists called Wednesday for urgent research into the health implications of nanoparticles, which are found in a wide range of everyday products but whose effects are virtually unknown.

Nanoparticles can be one millionth the size of a grain of sand and are used in the manufacture of everything from socks to cosmetics and even food supplements.

They manipulate materials on a tiny scale, giving them new properties and potentially beneficial capabilities.

But a two-year study by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said too little was known about their potential effects.

"While the Commission found no evidence of harm to health or the environment from nanomaterials, it believes that the pace at which such new nanomaterials are being developed and marketed is beyond the capacity of existing testing and regulatory arrangements to control the potential environmental impacts adequately," researchers said in a statement.

The Commission's chairman, John Lawton, said: "There is an urgent need for more research and testing of nanomaterials."

"Current testing arrangements and existing regulations are inadequate."

Researchers are particularly concerned that toxic nanoparticles may be able to penetrate protective barriers in the body, possibly reaching the brain or a baby in a womb.

To underline their concerns about the possible health implications, the team used the example of asbestos, another widely-used material that was only later found to cause cancer.

Laboratory research into carbon nanofibres used in clothing suggested they shared some characteristics with asbestos fibres.

The Royal Commission however rejected banning nanotechnology because of the "huge" benefits from some materials developed using nanoparticles.

For example, titanium dioxide in sunscreen is highly effective in preventing skin cancer.

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