In a new story on The 7.30 Report, nanotoxicologist Assoc Professor Paul Wright (director of the Nanoafe Australia research network) and Assoc Professor Tom Faunce (medicine and law at the Australian National University) have backed calls from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) for mandatory labelling and regulation of carbon nanotubes by the end of the year.
Despite growing evidence that carbon nanotubes could cause asbestos-like health harm (click here for a FoEA review), governments have so far ignored calls from the unions, FoEA and others for precautionary management. Workers have no way to know whether or not they are exposed to carbon nanotubes in their workplace, a situation the ACTU warns could be setting us up for a repeat of the asbestos tragedy.
The support of Associate Professors Paul Wright and Tom Faunce for mandatory labelling and regulation of carbon nanotubes follows a recent report by the United Kingdom’s Safe Nano Network “EmergNano“ which also recommended precautionary management for carbon nanotubes given their serious health risks. This echoes earlier calls by both the United Kingdom’s Royal Society and global re-insurance agent Swiss Re for precautionary handling of nanomaterials, in particular carbon nanotubes.
In recent months the Australian NanoBusiness Forum has also expressed its support for the ACTU’s calls for mandatory labelling of nanomaterials and for a register of companies using them. However a spokeswoman for the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Kim Carr says that “while the Government is very concerned for the health and safety of workers, it will not be introducing new regulations”.
Given the growing agreement between unions, the nanotechnology industry, leading nanotoxicologists, insurance agents and NGOs that urgent action is required on carbon nanotubes, we can only hope that the government catches up. As Tom Faunce told The 7.30 Report: “We have to start moving towards developing those safety standards in the work place. If we don’t, then a similar tragedy to asbestos awaits us, and that really would show that we haven’t learnt anything.”
The 7.30 Report, ABC TV 8 June 2009
“Safety concerns over nanotechnology”
KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: Nanotechnology, the science of re-engineering tiny particles measured in billionths of a metre, is one of the world’s fastest growing science technology industries. But increasing concern that the science safety is lagging behind the technological advances has led to calls from the ACTU and leading toxicologists for the urgent introduction of strict labelling and nano-specific regulations. The calls follow a series of research findings that have linked a particular nano-particle to an asbestos-type reaction in test mice, a finding the unions say could be another mesothelioma time bomb.
Tracee Hutchison reports.
TRACEE HUTCHISON, REPORTER: It’s a science so small you can’t actually see it. But chances are you’re using one of its many applications on a daily basis.
GEOFF FARY, ACTU: We understand that it’s in more than 800 different products at the moment and increasing virtually every day.
GEORGIA MILLER, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: We’re talking about sunscreens, cosmetics, clothing, food packaging, refrigerators. Also, paints, fuel catalysts, service coatings, speciality building equipment, speciality car parts, and aerospace parts.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: It’s nanotechnology; a revolutionary science using particles 200 times smaller than a human blood cell, and it’s transforming the way we live.
PROFESSOR TOM FAUNCE, MEDICINE & LAW, ANU: Some of the ways in which these particles can be used are in orthopaedics; to enhance hip replacements for example; they can be used in building materials to enhance the solidity of structures, to reduce the corrosiveness of structures.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: Nano products are the new black of industry. From computers to drug delivery technology, food durability and improved water supplies, to anti-ageing creams and sun screens. But the juggernaut of nanotechnology is moving so fast it’s out-pacing the science safety and the calls for the introduction of mandatory labelling in international standards on nano specific regulations are getting louder.
PROFESSOR TOM FAUNCE: It’s no good saying that our existing regulatory systems will be able to adequately deal with the potential safety risks these particles have both in the manufacturing plants and in society.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: Late last year the ‘7.30 Report’ detailed concerns about the use of nanotechnology in sunscreens, a process that allows the absorption of the sun blocking zinc oxide and titanium dioxide particles so they rub on clear.
PROFESSOR TOM FAUNCE (archival footage, ‘7.30 Report’, December 20087): The big issue is to what extent do they get inside the cells through the dead skin on the outer surface of the body. We really don’t have this information.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: While the CSIRO says it will take two to three years to draw conclusive findings on the health risks, if any, of nano particles in sunscreens, a new potentially lethal threat of nanotechnology has emerged.
GEORGIA MILLER: Last year we saw two separate studies that showed that carbon nano tubes, which are a specific type of nano material, now used in electronics, reinforced plastics and some other applications can actually cause mesothelioma in test mice. Now previously it was thought only asbestos could cause mesothelioma, so this really rang very serious alarm bells.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: It’s these nano particles, known as multi-walled carbon nano tubes, that present with asbestos like properties that are causing concern. Carbon nano tube technology is used in products like lightweight bike frames and tennis racquets, sensors and electromagnetic shielding and reinforced plastics in car and electronics. Experts say without appropriate labelling and regulation, they could pose a serious risk.
TOM FAUNCE: We have to start moving towards developing those safety standards in the work place. If we don’t, then a similar tragedy to asbestos awaits us, and that really would show that we haven’t learnt anything.
GEOFF FARY: We just don’t want to take the risk of having these particles released in industry in a fairly unregulated way, only to find that we have reaped an awful harvest 30 years down the track.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: The ACTU says the biggest problem is the lack of information and it’s calling on the Federal Government to put nano specific labelling and regulation in place by the end of the year.
GEOFF FARY: The technology is the thing that’s advancing so rapidly, and it’s advancing in front of governments.
GEORGIA MILLER: Workers across all industries face exposure at the point of nano material fabrication, of their inclusion into the products during product handling and manufacture, and also potentially end of life, we’ve got environmental exposure issues.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: Nano safety experts support the union’s push for improved labelling.
PROFESSOR PAUL WRIGHT, TOXICOLOGY, RMIT: Any nano material that behaves in a similar way to asbestos is a nano material of concern, and that’s something that we should control and regulate. They are sufficiently different from any other carbonaceous materials we’ve been working with before. They should get their own labelling.
PROFESSOR TOM FAUNCE: If we look across to Europe, we’re starting to see the requirement for nano specific regulation in relation to food. It’s slow, but that’s definitely the direction things are moving.
GEOFF FARY: If there is a even a slight chance that our fears are correct, then we think it behoves society to take the precautionary approach and to move down a regulatory path.
KERRY O’BRIEN: That report from Tracee Hutchison This transcript, and a link to footage of the story can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2009/s2592535.htm