Opportunities draw a crowd. More researchers are attracted to upside opportunity than testing for safety. Unfortunately, products are rushed to market for product advantage. Once again products are out before safety is assured. Such is the case with nanoparticles.
Multiple developments have now been proven to be harmful, one taking years to withdraw from the market even though substitutes are available. Another threatens the production of oxygen on earth. One of which is a direct problem to its users. Another is a less direct problem but has more serious and long-term implications.
It has been known for sometime that plastic particles in the oceans are collecting inside the bodies of creatures of the sea that ingest them and are consequently harmed by them. It has now been discovered that “Tiny particles used in sunscreens and other consumer products may harm marine creatures by disabling the defense mechanisms that protect their embryos.” So says a May 14, 2015 article published by the National Geographic.
This unique problem is that many of the facial crèmes and body scrubs that are washed down the drain contain exfoliators, nanoparticle plastic beads, that are too small to filter out during wastewater treatment. Consequently, they go into the ocean and lakes. Here they are eaten by marine fauna especially those that are filter feeders, e.g. mussels, causing circulatory and digestive blocking, malnutrition, and starvation.
Fortunately alternatives are readily available, e.g. crushed walnuts, strawberry seeds or bamboo, and many businesses in the beauty industry have announced they will phase out the use of plastic beads in their products over the next few years. This is true for conglomerates such as Unilever, Beierdsorf, L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Johnson and Johnson, and Proctor and Gamble. We are lucky there are alternatives or the beauty industry might have fought this substitution.
Of even more concern was a study that was summarized by Kriti Gaur in the AJAS Environmental Science 2015 Annual AAAS Meeting held from February 12th to 16th of 2015. The Abstract of the recent study explained that the purpose of the study was to ascertain the effect of nanoparticle pollution and how it might alter the chemistry of the ocean.
It observed that nanoparticles are being used in many products in the world and that these particles are being released into the environment as pollutants. This includes contamination from nanoparticles composed of silver, gold, zinc, copper, and magnesium in various concentrations. These ingredients were studied in concentrations of 5%, 10%, and 15%.
Specifically, the objects of the study were two very common species of algae. As the abstract explained, “Algae is an extremely important marine organism, since it produces 70-80% of the oxygen on Earth, and can be used as a potential energy resource for the future, to make biofuels.”
Researchers found that, “as the concentration of the nanoparticles increased, the growth rates decreased (cells per drop and cell counts)…meaning that the algae were not converting as much CO2 to oxygen, hindering their rates of photosynthesis.” The Abstract continued as follows “It was concluded that the algae were impacted negatively by metal nanoparticles in their environment, and were poisoned by them, severely impacting the biological functioning of the algae. As a result they die off faster, and could not adapt to the conditions of toxicity in their environment.”
As stated in an earlier article on this blog, see “To Know Nano is to Say Whoa to Nano,” published in February 2013, nanoparticles are so small normal bodily barriers do not confine them. Nanoparticles penetrate the skin, are breathed into the lungs etc. and move in the circulatory system aggregating as substances in the organs of the body.
The previous article stated, “While most often composed of various metals such as silver, gold, titanium dioxide, and carbon, particles of this size can be created of almost anything. One major problem is that these materials often act in surprising and distressing ways at this size. They do not conform to the norms established at their usual scale in our environment. They are often unpredictable.”
The article continued, “As witnessed in so many other technical breakthroughs, there is a virtual land rush of companies seeking competitive advantage by including nanoparticles in almost everything they make. Today nanoparticles are added, without our knowledge, to such products as food, clothing, medicines, shampoos, suntan lotions, cosmetics, vitamins, and toothpaste.” This all today remains true.
Now the impacts of much of these nanoparticles that become pollutants are being felt around the world. While it is true we cannot pollute the vast oceans very fast, the effect of this pollution is that the algae will die and with it the production of the oxygen we all breathe will cease. Again these developments cannot continue without stringent and close regulation.
The effects of these nanoparticles must be known before they are allowed to go to market in products around the world. Once again we are allowing the profit motive to overwhelm the public’s safety. We cannot have our companies pollute the environment and threaten life’s very existence.
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