A Small Dose of Nanotoxicology

  • An Introduction into the Health Effects of Nanomaterials

Nanoparticles Dossier

  • Name: Nanotoxicology
  • Definition of nanomaterials: materials sized from 1 to 100 nanometres (one billionth of a meter)
  • Use: wide range of chemicals, pesticides, plastics, flame retardants, medicine, paints, cosmetics, sunscreens, clothing, baby toys, almost everything
  • Source: synthetic chemistry, plants
  • Recommended daily intake: none (not essential)
  • Absorption: intestine, respiratory system (lungs), skin
  • Sensitive individuals: fetus and children, workers
  • Toxicity/symptoms: endocrine system, mimic estrogen, anti-estrogenic, effects on hormone levels, sexual characteristics, reproduction, and development
  • Regulatory facts: FDA and EPA are reviewing
  • General facts: billions of pounds used every year in wide range of products
  • Environmental: widely distributed in environment and can affect wildlife
  • Recommendations: minimize use, avoid children's exposure, consider alternatives, expand research into toxicity, adopt precautionary approach 


Nanotoxicology Chapter

PowerPoint Presentation

Milestones in Nanotechnology*

~300 ADLycurgus Cup (Rome): dichroic glass looks opaque green but turns red when light shines from inside, the result of colloidal gold and silver in the glass
~600-1500Stained glass windows in European cathedrals contained nanoparticles of gold chloride and other metal oxides
~1200-1800“Damascus” saber blades contained carbon nanotubes and cementite nanowires
1857Nanogold solutions’ ability to appear as different colors depending on the lighting demonstrated by Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
1936Field-emission microscope allowing the experimental observation of atoms invented by Erwin Müller (1911-1977)
1959"There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom," first lecture on technology and engineering at the atomic scale by Richard Feynman (1918-1988) of the California Institute of Technology
1981Scanning tunneling microscope allows imaging of surfaces at the atomic level and permits scientists to "see" individual atoms; invented by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer at IBM’s Zurich lab
1985Buckminsterfullerene (C60) or buckyball was discovered by researchers at Rice University; it is shaped like a soccer ball and composed entirely of carbon
1986Atomic force microscope, providing the ability to view, measure, and manipulate materials down to fractions of a nanometer in size, invented
1991Carbon nanotube (CNT) created; CNTs are very strong, have electrical and thermal conductivity, and entirely composed of carbon but in a tubular shape
1999-?Consumer products employing nanotechnology appeared, from cars to golf balls to paint to clothing and more
2000National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) started by President Clinton to coordinate Federal R&D efforts and promote nanotechnology
2004“Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties” published by Britain’s Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering; it advocates the need to address potential health, environmental, social, ethical, and regulatory issues associated with nanotechnology


updated 2011
“Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) Research Strategy” published by the US NNI (

*For a more detailed list see


More Information and References

European, Asian, and International Agencies

  • Nanowerk. Food Safety. Information and news portal. Committed to educate, inform and inspire about nanosciences and nanotechnologies.


North American Agencies

  • The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). US Government Nanotechnology Initiative is a federal R&D program established to coordinate the multiagency efforts in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Ames Center for Nanotechnology. Started in early 1996, the research work focuses on experimental research and development in nano and bio technologies; includes great images.
  • US FDA. Nanotechnology: Science and Research. Website includes nanotechnology fact sheet, draft guidance related to nanotechnology applications in cosmetics and food substances, and "Draft Guidance for Industry: Considering Whether an FDA-Regulated Product Involves the Application of Nanotechnology"
  • US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Nanotechnology. Addresses worker safety and health issues related to the use or production of nanomaterials.
  • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Nanotechnology. Conducts research on worker safety and issues related to the use or production of nanomaterials.
  • The Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT) at Sandia National Laboratories, a Department of Energy/Office of Science Nanoscale Science Research Center (NSRC). "Our vision is to become a world leader in nanoscale science by developing the scientific principles that govern the design, performance, and integration of nanoscale materials."


For-profit Organizations

  • Nanotechnology Now (NN). Nanotechnology Glossary. NN was created to serve the information needs of business, government, academic, and public communities with the intention of becoming the most informative and current free collection of "nano" reference material.

Non-government Organizations

  • The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. Established in April 2005 as a partnership between the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trusts, "The Project is dedicated to helping ensure that as nanotechnologies advance, possible risks are minimized, public and consumer engagement remains strong, and the potential benefits of these new technologies are realized."


  • Ahamed, M., Alsalhi, M. S., & Siddiqui, M. K. "Silver nanoparticle applications and human health." Clin Chim Acta 411, 23-24 (2010): 1841-1848.
  • Donaldson, K., Murphy, F., Schinwald, A., Duffin, R., & Poland, C. A. "Identifying the pulmonary hazard of high aspect ratio nanoparticles to enable their safety-bydesign." Nanomedicine (Lond) 6, 1 (2011): 143-156.
  • Feynman, Richard. "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" delivered as a lecture at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), December 29th, 1959. First published in the February 1960 issue of Caltech's Engineering and Science, available on their website with their permission.
  • Luoma, Samuel. "Silver Nanotechnologies and the Environment." Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies by PEW Charitable Trust (2008). Maynard, A. D., Aitken, R. J., Butz, T., Colvin, V., Donaldson, K., Oberdorster, G., et al. "Safe handling of nanotechnology." Nature 444,7117 (2006): 267-269.
  • Maynard, A. D., Warheit, D. B., & Philbert, M. A. "The new toxicology of sophisticated materials: nanotoxicology and beyond." Toxicol Sci 120 Suppl 1 (2011): S109-129.
  • Nanotoxicology journal from Informa Healthcare. "Addresses research relating to the potential for human & environmental exposure, hazard & risk associated with the use & development of nano-structured materials."
  • Walker, N. J., & Bucher, J. R. "A 21st century paradigm for evaluating the health hazards of nanoscale materials?" Toxicol Sci 110, 2 (2009): 251-254.


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