What are the benefits of nanoparticles

In our “Question of the Week” section, we regularly pursue an exciting question. This is about the dangers of nanoparticles. If you also have a question, write to us at [email protected]

They protect the skin from sunburn, the car paint from scratches and the rain jacket from penetrating water. Nanoparticles are tiny particles, are found in many products today and offer great advantages. Some medical professionals even use the smallest silver particles to kill bacteria.

But are these particles, which are no more than a hundredth of a millimeter in size, really as great and harmless as they seem at first glance?

According to the current state of research, this is very difficult to say - because the consequences for humans have so far hardly been investigated. Der Spiegel aptly explains on this topic: "Research into possible risks and side effects lags far behind the marketing of the products."

Environmental organizations such as the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz (BUND) have been calling on the European Union to regulate the use of nanoparticles for some time - little has happened so far.

Several studies, such as that of Cornell University in Ithaca, have shown that nanoparticles can have a negative influence. The researchers at the university mixed the feed of laboratory chickens with nanoparticles made of polystyrene. Polystyrene is a plastic that is increasingly being used in food packaging.

The researchers found that those chickens that had eaten feed containing nanoparticles were far less able to absorb iron than the control group that received normal feed. After a few weeks this effect subsided because the intestinal tract of the treated chickens had changed, but this clearly shows that nanoparticles can influence the organism.

The researchers also treated human intestinal cultures with polystyrene nanoparticles, with similar results. The nanoparticles influenced the intestinal cultures. The dangerous thing about the particles: foreign substances that the body does not want to absorb actually "bounce" off the intestinal mucosa and are excreted through the feces, but the dwarf particles can overcome this barrier due to their size. Two nanoparticle researchers recently told the world: "The smaller the nanoparticles, the greater the risk of deposits in various organs."

A current study by the University of Koblenz-Landau could now provide information about further dangers. The study, which this time was carried out on water fleas, shows that previous research may have started at the wrong point. The experts from the university discovered that the animals treated with nanoparticles did not show any abnormalities, but that their offspring were considerably restricted. According to the findings, these are significantly less swimmable and therefore able to survive than a neutral control group.

The fleas whose parents were treated with nanoparticles made of titanium dioxide also showed a lower stress threshold for other stresses than the offspring of healthy fleas. Titanium oxide is found in products such as paint, but also in sun and tooth creams.

The researchers at the University of Koblenz-Landau see a need for action in politics through their study: “Because conventional examinations and risk assessments are not enough.” In doing so, they refer to the current controls that approval bodies use to assess the risk of nanoparticles are now demanding that approval bodies, such as the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BFR), adapt their tests in order to be able to better assess long-term risks and dangers - also for subsequent generations.

So far, the BFR has declared that there are no cases in which "damage to health has been demonstrably caused by nanoparticles or nanomaterials." However, they also admit that there are "still many unanswered questions" when assessing health risks from nanoparticles.

However, there is still no labeling requirement. So if you want to do without nanoparticles as a consumer, this is difficult to implement. While in the case of deodorants, for example, a reference to "silver ions" still relatively easily indicates nanoparticles as an ingredient, this is much more difficult to understand with other products.

It is also unclear to what extent nanomaterials are found in food. Research by BUND in 2008 revealed that more than 100 foods contained nanoparticles. This number is likely to have risen by now. The BFR explains vaguely on this topic: "It is reported that nanomaterials are used in food as auxiliary substances and additives."

So it's time for politics to take on the topic.

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