FDA Takes Another Look at Nanotechnology

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Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailNanoparticles are in all kinds of products, from personal care to clothing to food. Nanotechnology, the process of manipulating matter at one billionth of a meter, makes materials stronger and more durable, but we have no idea what those largely unregulated tiny particles may be doing to the environment and our health.

Until now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has characterized and regulated nanoparticles based on particle size. In a new draft guidance released this week, the FDA is signaling a turn toward more accurate classification and rules for use, Melaina Juntti reports in Natural Foods Merchandiser. 'CFS has been advocating against a one-size-fits-all definition of a nanoparticle,' says Colin O'Neil, regulatory policy analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety.

Thousands of commercial products employ nanoparticles, which are used throughout the food industry, as antimicrobials on cutting boards and in food packaging. Many of the tiny particles take on properties and phenomena not seen in their larger counterparts. 'Now the question is how they'll be regulated,' O’Neal says.

The FDA’s draft guidance seeks to more accurately define nanoparticles and advise industries on how to employ them. It could significantly impact the development, release and use of new consumer and commercial products, such as deodorant that uses nano-size silica and super-concentrated pesticides that use nano-antimicrobials, Juntti reports. The guidance could also impose new safety testing and guidelines.

Because nanoparticles are so small, they can leach into our skin and cause all sorts of problems. Recent studies have shown that nanoparticles can damage lung cells, suppress immunity and carry health risks similar to those posed by asbestos. Nanoparticles used in sunscreens and other personal care products have also been shown to harm bacteria and soil microbes, raising questions about what the particles would do when rinsed down the drain and into waterways.

You can learn more through NanoAction, a campaign to stop nanotechnology commercialization until products containing nanoparticles have been proven safe. The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concetration (ETC Group) has called for a moratorium on research involving nanotechnology until nanoparticles have been closely evaluated.