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U.S. Research to Examine Nano Safety

Monday, December 17, 2012

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Nanotechnology in paints and coatings is spreading like wildfire, but how safe are the popular micro-materials for humans and the environment in the long run?

That is one question that U.S. government researchers plan to answer in a newly announced initiative.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are collaborating on a research project to assess the potential impact of nanomaterials on human health and the environment.

Nanomaterials are now being used in hundreds of consumer products, but development and commercialization have outpaced full knowledge of their effects on humans and the environment.


Nanomaterials are currently used in hundreds of consumer products, according to the EPA.

The materials, 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, have unique properties that are not fully understood, the government says.

Research is needed to identify methods that will allow manufacturers and other stakeholders to ensure that products containing these materials are not harmful, it says.

Nanomaterials in Coatings

The new research focus will include nanomaterials that are used in paints and coatings, EPA said. Those materials include:

Carbon Nanotubes: Carbon materials have found varied applications in paints, coatings and a wide range of other uses. They have also, in past research, exhibited some toxicological impacts. EPA research will provide data, models, test methods, and best practices to discover the acute health effects of carbon nanotubes and identify methods to predict them.

Recently, a new corrosion-resistant steel coating made with fullerene carbon nanotubes was awarded a $100,000 grant to develop and manufacture the coatings.

In 2011, scientists were working to develop anti-icing coating technology using carbon nanotubes.

Cerium Oxide: Nanoscale cerium oxide is used in everything from electronics, to biomedical supplies, to energy and fuel additives. The EPA reports that many applications of engineered cerium oxide nanoparticles naturally disperse themselves into the environment, which increases the risk of exposure.

Titanium Dioxide: Nano-titanium dioxides are used in paints and coatings, among other products.

In March, Dechema/VCI Working Group released a 10-year study on risks of nanomaterials. The research stated that UV-activated nano-titanium dioxide used in paints could potentially combat air pollutants and fungi and bacteria on some surfaces.

However, in 2011, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health stated that airborne, ultrafine particles of titanium dioxide could potentially cause cancer.

Nano Silver: This nanomaterial has been incorporated into a variety of materials to eliminate bacteria and odor.

Two new coatings systems using patented silver nanotechnology were recently introduced to combat mold and bacteria in food and medical facilities. The manufacturer said its coating system used a proprietary resistance mechanism based on a nano-silver complex to provide a "permanent" and environmentally compatible long-term protection against mold and bacteria on coating film.

Iron: While nano-scale iron is being investigated for many uses, one promising application is to remove contamination from groundwater, the EPA stated.

Iron nanoparticles encapsulated in a rust-preventing polymer coating could be the future to cleaning up groundwater contaminated with toxic chemicals, a leading water expert says.


Researchers have used nanomaterials in coatings for many applications, including antimicrobial coatings and removing toxic chemicals from groundwater.

International Research Effort

The research is part of a larger international effort that focuses on identifying the origins of nanomaterials, determining how they interact with the human body and the environment, and developing sustainable manufacturing processes.

"Nanotechnology and nanomaterials used in the development of these products improve our everyday lives, but it is important that we understand how humans are exposed to nanomaterials and to assess the risks they may pose to people's health and the environment," said Dr. Tina Bahadori, national program director for EPA's Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research.

"This innovative research greatly improves what is known about nanomaterials and will inform the future design of more sustainable, effective nanomaterials," she said.

Dr. Treye Thomas, program manager for the CPSC Nanotechnology program, noted that although nanomaterials are popular, "the need for additional research and knowledge on how they affect consumers is great."

"The CPSC staff is working diligently to meet the challenges involved in regulating this emerging technology and is pleased to be collaborating with staff at EPA to develop test methods and exposure data to adequately address health and safety concerns," Thomas said.


Tagged categories: Environmental Protection; EPA; Nano and hybrid coatings; Nanotechnology; Polymers; Research

Comment from pier luigi bonora, (12/17/2012, 5:01 AM)

why nobody studies the effects of nanopowders widely used used in cosmetics?

Comment from Stuart Bayliss, (12/17/2012, 3:00 PM)

BlueScope Steel found that sunscreens containing nano TiO2 and ZnO cause accelerated sun damage to Colorbond pre-painted steel roofs by up to 100 times. The sunscreens can also damage car finishes and timber paint finishes. See letter at

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (12/19/2012, 10:42 AM)

Interesting. I hadn't thought about it before, but I suspect the TiO2 in sunscreen will be anatase, not rutile due to cost. Anatase spawns a LOT more free radicals - not good for paint (the ASTM spec uses the term "free chalking" for Type I, which is anatase) - and probably not good for the skin, either.

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