Authors: Phillips JI, Murray J, Davies JCA

Source: Occupational Health Southern Africa 2010; 16 (6): 16-21.


The rapid progress and growth in the field of nanotechnology has raised concerns about the toxicity of nanoparticles. This paper reviews the literature concerning human disease attributable to exposure to nanoparticles and is illustrated with nanoparticles in a product on sale in South Africa. Nanotoxicology studies invitro and in rodents have shown nanoparticles to be biologically active than their larger counterparts. These studies also show that nanoparticles may be rapidly transported to many organs of the body. Documented examples of disease in humans attributable to nanoparticles are rare. The explanation for this is not known but nanoparticles tend to aggregate and, perhaps, larger aggregated particles are not as biologically active as individual particles. In the examples of human disease due to nanoparticles presented here, workers were exposed to massive doses of particles without basic occupational hygiene measures being taken. The effects of nanoparticles on humans may be systemic and present diagnostic difficulties as the effects of exposure to low doses and the long- term effects of exposure to nanoparticles are unknown.