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'Nessie' and The Precautionary Principle
By: Johann W. Wiechers, PhD, JW Solutions
Posted: June 1, 2009
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Skeptics of nanotechnology continue to convey to the public that the industry is exposing them to grave dangers. While it is true there are safety issues associated with the inhalation of nanoparticles—and this is not the route of entry for sunscreens into the body; they are obviously not intended to be inhaled—skin penetration of topically applied particles is theoretically and experimentally impossible.
Thus, there are two camps with opposing opinions. The scientists cannot unambiguously state that something that is not there could not be there and similarly, the skeptics of nanotechnology cannot argue that, without the facts, the technology should not be used; but if this were the mentality, the human race would not have evolved from living in caves. A true Catch-22 situation! The generally accepted response to evade such situations at the end of many scientific papers is that further research is necessary to resolve the matter.
Instead of doing nothing, the real world behaves differently. Faced with a situation where the absolute safety of the item cannot be guaranteed, toxicologists make an estimation of the risk, build in a safety margin, and reach a conclusion that something can or cannot be used in the marketplace. This is what happened for micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and the general public has been using these nano-sized products for years without any known health risks.
Although further research on skin penetration of nanoparticles should be conducted, by the laws of science, no researcher can demonstrate that it did not happen. Hence, the uncertainty will always remain, enabling the general public's already negative opinion of nanotechnology to grow. Even worse, a recent television program in the Netherlands spoke to how the personal care industry hardly knows anything about the safety issues associated with nanotechnology. Scientists publicly promised to do further research in such fields, knowing it would be insufficient because there is no conclusive answer. This is again a Catch-22 situtation; however, in this case, more research is not going to help.
Since science cannot solve the nanoparticle problem, the problem has moved into politics—and politicians have solved it, but how? In a presentation at the Cosmetic Science Conference held during in-cosmetics in Munich this past April, a lawyer, Andreas Reinhart, PhD, told the audience that the presence of nanoparticles in cosmetic products would soon need to be declared.