Scientists taking closer look at nanoparticles
Published Saturday, November 28, 2009 10:02PM EST
Cosmetics makers may soon have to list everything that goes into their products -- down to the most minute detail.
Nanoparticles are microscopic versions of common materials like carbon, silver and titanium that go into strengthening products as varied as cosmetics, vitamins and even hockey sticks. Now governments are looking into whether they have a role in causing diseases.
European Union regulators have forced cosmetic producers to list any nanoparticles contained in their products, which has many consumer groups calling for Canada to follow suit.
The EU action comes on the heels of a United States study released this week on the hazards of their inclusion in cosmetic products.
The University of California study found that titanium dioxide particles found in some vitamins and toothpastes damaged the DNA of mice. Another study in the European Respiratory Journal found nanoparticles led to the severe illnesses of several Chinese factory workers who worked closely with them, contributing to the death of one woman.
Some scientists believe many of these particles are benign, but more research is needed before they're proven to be safe.
"We have very little understanding of the mechanisms of nanoparticle toxicity," said Queens University Physics Professor Kevin Robbie.
"We understand that they can cause inflammation. We know that there can be specific sizes, shapes and chemical compositions."
He added that these can lead to increased risk of disease.
This lack of knowledge about the potential risks of the particles has Canadian consumer groups calling for them to be more closely monitored by the government.
Elizabeth Nielsen, a consultant with the Consumers Council of Canada, urged the government to look at nanoparticles as new substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and to evaluate them on an individual basis before they are put on the market.
"Ensure that products that contain nanomaterials are identified," Nielsen suggests, "so that the consumer at least is able to make a choice whether they want to buy that product or not."
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip