Wednesday, April 12, 2006

On MAGIC NANO 2.01

What an interesting week this has been. I've learned a lot about Kleinmann, Nanopool, nano-liquid, and more. Of course, any inaccuracies below will be corrected but I think this is mostly correct.

March 31 – BfR (Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Analysis) released a statement on a product known as Magic Nano Bad WC Versiegeler. Kleinmann GmbH, based in Sonnenbhl, Germany and a subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works, marketed Magic Nano. The product was sold in supermarkets on March 27 and recalled on March 28.

Background – Kleinmann’s site reports nano-sealants were developed out of the Institute for New Materials in Saabr├╝cken. Institute scientists and investors formed startups or spin-offs which in turn sell nano-liquid to industry. Kleinmann wanted to introduce one of the first end user products foreseeing huge possibilities and future market potential. Kleinmann purchases what they call a nanoliquid from one of these companies.

A search will produce a product called Nano Liquid (see audiyo.com). For example, this specific product is made up of gold and silver with particles in the 8 nm. range. They remain in suspension by mixing controlled amount of squalene oil (it is found in nature and its sources include olives, palm oil, wheat germ oil, and shark liver oil and its used as a moisturizer) and they claim some conductivity advantages associated with the product.

According to BfR the active component was a nano-liquid and this sent me on a search through the literature and a series of interviews. Presumably, the cleaning liquid was tested on April 7 at Saarland and preliminary reports suggest the nano-liquid was not responsible for the health problems. The supplier for the liquid was presumably Nanopool which is a startup or spinoff at Saabr├╝cken. The Economist, like my earlier blog entry, identified silicate particles suspended in fluid which block cervised, reducing the scope for dirt, moisture and bacteria.

I’ve learned the product is a solution of a perfluorated siloxane oil in ethanol (siloxanes are a class of both organic and inorganic chemical compounds which consist entirely of silicon, oxygen, and an alkyl group). Inhalation of impregnation spray is not uncommon. The aerosol nature of the spray might have led to the causative reaching deeper into the lungs than it might have done in the pump spray version. In an earlier blog I suggested the cause might be the propellant and a spokesman from Kleinmann added another possibility which is the anti-corrosive liquid inside the propellant can itself.

BfR reported on April 12th that it remains unknown what the cause was for the intoxication cases. They are unwilling to cite the nanoparticles, as a component of the aerosol, due to the lack of data. They did add the distributors of the spread were “unable to supply the full formulations because information was missing from upstream suppliers” which is worrisome. BfR did explain the size of the droplets were very small in the aerosol version of the sealant which probably allowed the irritant to reach deeper into the lungs.

In addition, the name for the product is misleading. The term nano was probably used because spraying the product on a surface creates a surface layer at nano-sized thickness. Another source suggested that BfR decided to use the prefix nano in their release because Kleinmann used it to name the particle and maybe because the active ingredient in the formula was "nano-liquid".

Bullis from Technology Reviews reported 79 people reported breathing problems and coughing and 6 were hospitalized. Other sources report 108 adverse reports to the poison control center though BfR reports 97. It would be interesting to chart the occurrences to determine if there was any peaking before and after BfR’s release and the press reporting.

There does seem to be some serious credence to the alert. As a bath cleanser and as bathrooms are mostly enclosed spaces, ventilation might be problematical and as such there should be concern about inhalation effects regardless of the proximate cause of the edemas. Anecdotally, Kleinmann's windscreen cleaner containing the same materials has not generated alarm but of course that is used in well-ventilated areas.

I was fascinated by the opportunities to study a product cascade event. When folks talk about the need for regulation, very often they add a dire warning that one disaster or catastrophic event regarding a single product line might transfer to other lines and the entire industry. The cascade is the internal operation mechanism between onset and demise. We desperately need cascade data sets and we simply don’t have them.

Another colleague of mine warned as I did earlier: Without an established cause and effect, it is possible to inappropriately assign a hazard classification to a product of nanotechnology and by association an entire class of materials. I could not agree more. My apprehension rests on two observations I have made from my review of the literature. First, there is excellent experimental data suggesting that remediation of some of our worst toxic waste sites might be possible with passive and functionalized nanoparticles. Second, there is some highly encouraging data suggesting that functionalized nanoparticles might be highly effective is treating a set of cancers that are devastating the lives of millions of people. False transference of effects across a spectrum of nanoproducts simply makes me cringe. Rhetoric of this sort is hazard dominant and for some good reason. However, the rhetoric needs to consider net effects as well and this is a lesson hard learned by those who amplify risk for their own interests.

This same colleague of mine reminded me that the uncertainties associated with this recall underscore the need for clarity with respect to terminology, hazard identification, and risk communication. He is totally correct. The nano prefix is being abused by advertising and marketing folks and needs to be reigned in.

Another colleague of mine also noticed that of the 60 German media articles on the event only 3 mentioned nanotechnology whereas all the USA articles mentioned the word or a term including nano as a prefix. He made this statement. “The German media focus on consumer safety, while the US media tend to threaten the symbolic value of nanotechnology.” This is fascinating and it would be interesting to better understand that intercultural dynamic at work here.

It didn’t take long for the ETC Group to jump to attention and used the uncertain events to underline their call for a global moratorium on nanotechnology lab research and a recall of consumer products containing nanoparticles.

Much more cautious remarks were offered by others. The NanoEthics Group (I am on their advisory board) categorized the incident as a wake-up call that the potential risks of nanotechnology are real and deserve more attention by both government and industry. Environmental Defense immediately demanded spending more money on testing, plugging holes in regulation, and avoiding the use of nanoparticles in dispersive applications until more is known. CBEN’s Kevin Ausman called for more study to learn about the toxicity values of carefully purified forms of nanoparticles. These are all good ideas but please note they were driven by the assumption that this incident was nano-related. Indeed, some of these recommendations are found in the April 12th press release from BfR.
The final lesson learned – the German Network of Poison Centers work pretty well and kudos to BfR for breaking the alert in the first place. The most recent BfR release can be found at http://www.bfr.bund.de/cms5w/sixcms/detail.php/7750

The Economist reports that on April 10th the product inside the aerosol can was cleared by BfR though no mention has been made about the anti-corrosive. The recent BfR press release is much more cautious in its findings.

Once again - all opinions expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation, the International Council of Nanotechnology or the University of South Carolina, neither its NanoCenter and NanoSTS.

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