The first study to look at the health effects of microscopic, manufactured "nanoparticles" on aquatic animals has found troubling evidence that the molecules - which scientists are starting to make for research and industry - can trigger organ damage and other toxic effects.
At modest concentrations in aquarium water, the minuscule particles - which are made of carbon atoms and are less than one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair - triggered damaging biochemical reactions in the brains of fish. They also wiped out entire populations of "water fleas," tiny animals that fill an ecologically crucial niche near the bottom of the aquatic food chain.
The study, described at a scientific meeting Sunday, was small and has yet to be peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal. And although some companies anticipate making tons of the particles within the next few years, current production levels are relatively low, so the risk of exposure for humans and other animals is still quite small, reports seattletimes.com
According to washingtonpost.com the first study to look at the health effects of microscopic, manufactured "nanoparticles" on aquatic animals has found troubling evidence that the molecules - which scientists are starting to make for research and industry - can trigger organ damage and other toxic effects.
Nonetheless, the findings underscore the growing recognition that the hot new field of nanotechnology, which federal officials have said will be at the heart of America's "next industrial revolution," may bring with it a number of old-fashioned trade-offs in terms of potential environmental damage and health risks.
Other animal studies have already suggested that a related class of nanoparticles cause lung injuries when inhaled, raising concerns about worker safety in the small but growing number of nanoparticle factories.
Nanotechnology is an emerging field of science that deals with engineered molecules a few billionths of meter in size. Because of the novel arrangements of the atoms in these molecules - and because the laws of physics behave differently at such scales - nanoparticles display bizarre chemical properties. Those properties make them potentially useful in products ranging from stain-proof fabrics to computer components, but also make them potentially biologically disruptive.