Sweating the small stuff: engineered nano-materials in pesticides

Many public health hazards are too small to see.  This is especially true of engineered nano-materials, or ENMs.  As their name implies, these materials are small—no more than a few hundred nanometers in diameter.  (For perspective, one nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or one human hair split lengthwise 80,000 times!)

Sounds cool, right?  But consider this: ENMs’ small size could increase the health risk they pose for humans exposed to them.  There are a number of possible reasons for this.  Significantly smaller than most toxicants, some ENMs may be able to pass more easily through cell membranes, thereby reaching tissues other toxicants cannot.  (For an overview, see this lengthy 2009 review from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.)

ENMs are probably in thousands of products.  I say “probably” because no one, including government regulators, knows for sure how many—let alone which—products contain them.  One estimate, from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, put the minimum number at 1,300 and predicted an increase to 3,400 by 2020. Read More >