Nanoparticles linked to illness and death in factory workers exposed to them

A report published in the August edition of the European Respiratory Society Journal points to a link between exposure to nanoparticles and severe illnesses suffered by seven factory workers in China who worked with them. One of the workers died. "These cases arouse concern that long-term exposure to some nanoparticles without protective measures may be related to serious damage to human lungs."

Exposure to nanoparticles is related to pleural effusion, pulmonary fibrosis and granuloma (ERS Journal, via Maggie Koerth-Baker)

Related: Deaths, lung damage linked to nanoparticles in China (Reuters)


  1. So I worked with nanoparticles in graduate school and as with any chemical/particle you have to be careful about it. I am not surprised that there are dangers with them, there are dangers with any small particulate matter. I think the key in the article is the lack of protective measures. Again I am not saying these things are not dangerous but handled correctly they could be extremely useful in medicine and materials development.

  2. Of course, a less alarmist headline would’ve been “Nanoparticles linked to _death_ of factory _worker_ exposed to them”

    Unless that single factory worker split into multiple amorphous workblobs before he died.

    And we all pray that he did.

  3. I’d also like to congratulate BoingBoing for winning the AdWords lottery: the sidebar for this post is full of mesothelioma ads.

    Ivory back scratchers for all!

  4. AgainstTheGrain recently outlined some of the regulatory concerns with the toxicology of nanoparticles:

    Nanotech & Toxic Products Nanotechnology involves the manufacture and manipulation of tiny particles. Products that contain nanoparticles are now ubiquitous. Ian Illuminato discusses what this means for human health and the environment. Also, Mark Schapiro contrasts the EU’s regulation of toxic chemicals in everyday products with the US approach.

  5. Meant to add that he called it “toner” and it was a major carcinogen for people who couldn’t afford decent anti-spam nano.

  6. I had a lengthy discussion with a scientist friend about this around a year ago.

    Turns out there is no regulation for new materials containing nanoparticles. Your new stain-resistant Dockers khakis contain nanoparticles applied in a clothing factory in Southeast Asia. Sounds real safe, doesn’t it?

  7. Inhaling weird powders is not a good idea. Common ones are quite deadly. We had an off duty state trooper do the good samaritan in an accident situation. He did not know that all the dust swirling around from the truck was glue powder, had no respirator and died of asphyxiation.

    We had a contractor that was telling us about how things were being assembled in this one Chinese factory he had stuff made at. He was laughing about how dumb and desperate the average Chinese worker was and went on to describe this one pregnant woman who was spray painting with no respiratory protection. She literally was hawking up and spitting out blue paint from the exposure.

    Combine extremely new nano powders with an intense lack of concern for people working with it and this is what happens.

  8. Thanks Axx… you also forgot to mention that water is wet and logic is logical. I’m a bit disappointed these things aren’t mentioned in the linked article, actually.

    Don’t inhale the fine, structured bits of dust. Duh!

  9. No question people should be smart and careful about the crap they expose themselves to. And employers should be proactively decent and safety- conscious about their workers.

    But the use of the term “nanoparticle” here is so vague as to be a smear once it reaches a pop- science level blog like this. Please don’t repeat science stuff if you can’t be a good filter and summarizer for us.

  10. Warning: Buckyjunk Contamination Area. Respiratory Equipment Mandatory.

    Anyone want to design the sign?

  11. This news brought to you by the cutting edge medical researcher Bernardino Ramazzini, who first recognised the disease now known as Silicosis in 1705.

    But the use of the term “nanoparticle” here is so vague as to be a smear once it reaches a pop- science level blog like this. Please don’t repeat science stuff if you can’t be a good filter and summarizer for us.

    Did you actually read the linked abstract? If you need someone to be a good filter and summarize science stuff for you, then please stop calling yourself a nerd.

  13. They were working in an enclosed room with no ventilation, spraying nanoparticles onto polystyrene boards which were then heated to 100 degrees celsius on a machine that required a working gas exhauster to remove the resultant smoke – and that had broken 5 months before.

    In these conditions, the polystyrene was dangerous.

    But then “nanoparticles kill (perhaps)” is news, total failure to apply even basic health and safety procedures in a Chinese factory sadly isn’t.

  14. This is valid research, but let’s not start nano-fearmongering.

    Fact: Particle size (if you’re talking about solid particles) is _obviously_ a factor in toxicity. That’s not exactly news. Just as aggregation state, the form of exposure, duration and concentration of exposure, and most significantly: What the stuff actually _is_.

    There’s no reason to automatically assume things are more dangerous because they’re nanoparticles. (Nor is there reason to think they’re safer) A study on metal oxide particles I read, found that in some cases nanoparticles were less dangerous than microparticles. In other cases it was the other way around.

    There’s no COMMON danger posed by different substances with the same particle size, so it doesn’t make sense to say “nanoparticles are dangerous” or “nanoparticles are safe” – You have to say nanoparticles of _what_, in which concentration, etc, etc.

    Otherwise you’re just making a meaningless over-generalization, like saying “liquids are dangerous” or “pointy things are dangerous”.

  15. It seems nanotechnology just exploded on the scene out of nowhere without any one person being credited for the greatest achievement in history. Just curious to know what is the original formula that enabled this new technology and who created it? Perhaps if nanotechnology ambitions stayed within the boundaries of its original formula it would not accelerate any imbalances in the body’s other systems. As we know on the nano scale the rate of electron forces are not equal to distance x acceleration. The formula used may be the difference between delayed genetic mutations and new horrifying birth defects from nano food creating new unknown untested dynamics in our body’s 9 biological systems. Whether or not our can body handle and maintain these new dynamics may depend on the formula used.

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