The Age writes that: “Australian unions are demanding urgent regulation of the nanotechnology industry, citing mounting evidence that some tiny particles used in products such as sunscreens and cosmetics could be as harmful as asbestos.” The full article is copied below and is available at:

Unions are demanding urgent regulation of the nanotechnology industry, citing mounting evidence that some tiny particles used in products such as sunscreens and cosmetics could be as harmful as asbestos. The ACTU is pushing for closer oversight of the rapidly growing industry, which contributes to more than 800 products including bedsheets, building materials and paints.

Little is known about the effects of nanoparticles — which are 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair — but one study reveals that one particle shares some characteristics of asbestos fibres and has a similar effect on mice.

“It’s a very new product. The tests thus far are ringing alarm bells for us,” said ACTU assistant secretary Geoff Fary. “And so what we’re saying is that we need to err on the side of caution. “Just as asbestos, when it was first used, was considered a miracle product, and it was only after many years that people realised how devastating it was, we don’t want to repeat the same mistake here.”

Among the ACTU’s demands are a national registry of all companies and organisations manufacturing, importing and supplying products containing nanomaterials, a labelling requirement for products containing nanomaterials, and for agencies to develop nanotechnology handling standards.

Thomas Faunce, an associate professor in the medical school and the college of law at the Australian National University, said that, while nanotechnology had enormous potential, regulations were needed to tackle the special properties of nanotechnology.

“Nanotechnology may be critical for our capacity to respond to the major global health crises that society is facing, particularly climate change, so we’ve got to embrace nanotechnology, but we’ve got to embrace safe nanotechnology,” he said. “Industry is racing ahead, developing all sorts of nano applications for various things and we feel as if it’s racing ahead a bit too fast, and that we shouldn’t just be waiting until the next paper gets published in Nature showing that another nanoparticle is dangerous,” he said. “This is not the way to go about a systematic approach to regulation.”

A report from a NSW parliamentary committee last year recommended changes to require the labelling of products containing nanoparticles. The new national occupational health and safety body, Safe Work Australia, is conducting research on the implications of the technology.

Overseas, a recent report by the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work identified nanoparticles as one of the greatest risks for workers. The European Parliament last month adopted a report recommending foods produced with nanotechnology be required to undergo risk assessment and be clearly labelled. The French Government has proposed legislation to regulate the manufacture, import and marketing of products containing nanoparticles.

See also the story on ABC Radio National’s AM: http//

Fears nanotech is new asbestos AM – Tuesday, 14 April , 2009 08:15:00 Reporter: Ashley Hall

TONY EASTLEY: The union movement is worried that workers in the nanotechnology sector might be facing a health time bomb, like asbestos. Nanotechnology is now used in more than 800 everyday items, including sunscreen and cosmetics. The ACTU says there are growing fears about the safety of producing and using nanomaterials, yet there are few specific protections available for workers.Ashley Hall reports.

ASHLEY HALL: Scientists have been thinking about how to manipulate individual atoms and molecules since the late 1950s. But it’s only been in the past couple of decades, that they’ve developed equipment that’s up to the task of exploring nanotechnology.

MIKE FORD: Nano means ten to the minus nine metres; so that’s about one ten-thousandth of the width of a human hair.

ASHLEY HALL: Mike Ford is the associate director of the Institute for Nanoscale Technology at the University of Technology, Sydney.

MIKE FORD: What we’re trying to do in nanotechnology is be able to engineer and control objects at that scale. So that’s like the scale of atoms and molecules.

ASHLEY HALL: Nanotechnology is now used in more than 800 everyday items, including car fuel lines, bed sheets, building materials, cosmetics and sunscreens.

MIKE FORD: Nanoscale sunscreens have been around a long time. They contain zinc oxide nanoparticles, and they’re still very, very good at absorbing UV but they’re clear.

ASHLEY HALL: The fear is that nanoparticles are so small, they could be easily inhaled, or pass through the skin, possibly causing diseases in a similar way to asbestos. And once they’re reduced to the nanoscale, familiar materials can take on a fresh personality.

MIKE FORD: Even though they might be dealing with substances that, in terms of traditional chemical safety are very well known about, when you make things nanoscopic, you turn them into nanoscale objects, they can behave in very, very different ways.

ASHLEY HALL: So manufacturing and handling guidelines don’t properly apply to the nanoscopic form. The union movement argues that’s putting workers at risk.

GEOFF FARY: Remember when asbestos was introduced, it was considered to be a miracle product and it wasn’t until many years later that we found the devastating effect it had.

ASHLEY HALL: Geoff Fary is the assistant secretary of the ACTU. GEOFF FARY: There should be an abundance of caution with nanotechnology to make sure that we’re not going to reap a similar awful harvest in years to come.

ASHLEY HALL: He says nanoscale chemicals should be classified as new chemicals and undergo all the appropriate safety checks. The ACTU also wants the Federal Government to introduce product labelling, to ensure consumers and workers know when they’re using goods produced with the help of nanotechnology. And it wants a registry kept of all the companies using nanotechnology.

GEOFF FARY: We just think it’s time to adopt the precautionary principle: stop and have a really close look at what we’re doing.

ASHLEY HALL: But a spokeswoman for the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Kim Carr, says while the Government is very concerned for the health and safety of workers, it won’t be introducing new regulations. She says the Government understands that nanotechnology is a rapidly emerging area, and it will work to keep pace.

TONY EASTLEY: Ashley Hall.