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Safety concerns over nanotechnology -

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Safety concerns over nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is one of the world's fastest-growing science technology industries but there are
now concerns that it may be unsafe.

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Nanotechnology, the science of re-engineering tiny particles measured in
billionths of a metre, is one of the world's fastest growing science technology industries.

But increasing concern that the science safety is lagging behind the technological advances has led
to calls from the ACTU and leading toxicologists for the urgent introduction of strict labelling
and nano-specific regulations.

The calls follow a series of research findings that have linked a particular nano-particle to an
asbestos-type reaction in test mice, a finding the unions say could be another mesothelioma time
bomb.

Tracee Hutchison reports.

TRACEE HUTCHISON, REPORTER: It's a science so small you can't actually see it. But chances are
you're using one of its many applications on a daily basis.

GEOFF FARY, ACTU: We understand that it's in more than 800 different products at the moment and
increasing virtually every day.

GEORGIA MILLER, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: We're talking about sunscreens, cosmetics, clothing, food
packaging, refrigerators. Also, paints, fuel catalysts, service coatings, specialty building
equipment, specialty car parts, and aerospace parts.

TRACEE HUTCHISON: It's nanotechnology; a revolutionary science using particles 200 times smaller
than a human blood cell, and it's transforming the way we live

PROFESSOR TOM FAUNCE, MEDICINE & LAW, ANU: Some of the ways in which these particles can be used
are in orthopaedics; to enhance hip replacements for example; they can be used in building
materials to enhance the solidity of structures, to reduce the corrosiveness of structures.

TRACEE HUTCHISON: Nano products are the new black of industry. From computers to drug delivery
technology, food durability and improved water supplies, to anti-ageing creams and sun screens. But
the juggernaut of nanotechnology is moving so fast it's out-pacing the science safety and the calls
for the introduction of mandatory labelling in international standards on nano specific regulations
are getting louder.

PROFESSOR TOM FAUNCE: It's no good saying that our existing regulatory systems will be able to
adequately deal with the potential safety risks these particles have both in the manufacturing
plants and in society.

TRACEE HUTCHISON: Late last year the '7.30 Report' detailed concerns about the use of
nanotechnology in sunscreens, a process that allows the absorption of the sun blocking zinc oxide
and titanium dioxide particles so they rub on clear.

PROFESSOR TOM FAUNCE (archival footage, '7.30 Report', December 20087): The big issue is to what
extent do they get inside the cells through the dead skin on the outer surface of the body. We
really don't have this information.

TRACEE HUTCHISON: While the CSIRO says it will take two to three years to draw conclusive findings
on the health risks, if any, of nano particles in sunscreens, a new potentially lethal threat of
nanotechnology has emerged.

GEORGIA MILLER: Last year we saw two separate studies that showed that carbon nano tubes, which are
a specific type of nano material, now used in electronics, reinforced plastics and some other
applications can actually cause mesothelioma in test mice. Now previously it was thought only
asbestos could cause mesothelioma, so this really rang very serious alarm bells.

TRACEE HUTCHISON: It's these nano particles, known as multi-walled carbon nano tubes, that present
with asbestos like properties that are causing concern. Carbon nano tube technology is used in
products like lightweight bike frames and tennis racquets, sensors and electromagnetic shielding
and reinforced plastics in car and electronics. Experts say without appropriate labelling and
regulation, they could pose a serious risk.

TOM FAUNCE: We have to start moving towards developing those safety standards in the work place. If
we don't, then a similar tragedy to asbestos awaits us, and that really would show that we haven't
learnt anything.

GEOFF FARY: We just don't want to take the risk of having these particles released in industry in a
fairly unregulated way, only to find that we have reaped an awful harvest 30 years down the track.

TRACEE HUTCHISON: The ACTU says the biggest problem is the lack of information and it's calling on
the Federal Government to put nano specific labelling and regulation in place by the end of the
year.

GEOFF FARY: The technology is the thing that's advancing so rapidly, and it's advancing in front of
governments.

GEORGIA MILLER: Workers across all industries face exposure at the point of nano material
fabrication, of their inclusion into the products during product handling and manufacture, and also
potentially end of life, we've got environmental exposure issues.

TRACEE HUTCHISON: Nano safety experts support the union's push for improved labelling.

PROFESSOR PAUL WRIGHT, TOXICOLOGY, RMIT: Any nano material that behaves in a similar way to
asbestos is a nano material of concern, and that's something that we should control and regulate.

They are sufficiently different from any other carbonaceous materials we've been working with
before. They should get their own labelling.

PROFESSOR TOM FAUNCE: If we look across to Europe, we're starting to see the requirement for nano
specific regulation in relation to food. It's slow, but that's definitely the direction things are
moving.

GEOFF FARY: If there is a even a slight chance that our fears are correct, then we think it behoves
society to take the precautionary approach and to move down a regulatory path.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report from Tracee Hutchison.