The WaPo is reporting that a coalition of consumer and environmental groups have legally petitioned the FDA to start regulating nanomaterials in consumer products. The action coincided with the release of a study by Friends of the Earth, an intense environmental group, titled “Nanomaterials, Sunscreens and Cosmetics: Small Ingredients, Big Risks.”.
From the press release by Friends of the Earth:
Cosmetics companies are using ingredients that include nano-scale metal oxides, carbon spheres called “fullerenes,” and “nanocapsules” designed to penetrate deeper layers of skin. Friends of the Earth believes its survey represents only a small sample of the cosmetics and personal care products containing “free” engineered nanoparticles now on store shelves.
Carbon fullerenes, which are used in some face creams and moisturizers, have antibacterial properties and have been found to cause brain damage in fish. Even low levels of exposure to fullerenes have been shown to damage human liver cells.
The summer sunbathing season presents an urgent dilemma as consumers use heavy amounts of sunscreen to ward off harmful ultraviolet rays, and in doing so unwittingly expose themselves to additional risk. Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide-used in large numbers of cosmetics, sunscreens and personal care products-have been shown to be photoactive, producing free radicals and causing DNA damage to skin cells when exposed to UV light.
Nowhere are nanomaterials entering consumer products faster than in the personal care and cosmetics industries. Use of personal care products such as certain shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and toothpastes poses a clear risk of exposure to untested nanomaterials because these products are used daily and are designed to be used directly on the skin. They may be inhaled and are often ingested. Because of their size, nanoparticles are more readily taken up by the human body than larger particles and are able to cross biological membranes and access cells, tissues and organs that larger particles cannot.
While the jury is still out on whether nanomaterials can enter intact skin, studies show that broken skin is an ineffective barrier and enables particles up to 7,000nm in size to reach living tissue. This suggests that the presence of acne, eczema or shaving wounds is likely to enable the uptake of nanoparticles into the body. Furthermore, many cosmetics and personal care products contain ingredients that act as “penetration enhancers,” raising concerns they may increase the likelihood of skin uptake of nanomaterials and possible entry into the blood stream.
In a 2004 report, the United Kingdom’s Royal Society–one of the oldest and most respected scientific bodies in the world–recommended “ingredients in the form of nanoparticles should undergo a full safety assessment by the relevant scientific advisory body before they are permitted for use in products.” Despite this warning, companies are rushing to incorporate nanomaterials into their products and cosmetics in a vacuum of independent safety testing. Two years after the Royal Society’s report, there are still no laws governing the use of nanomaterials in consumer products to ensure they do not cause harm to the public using them, workers producing them, or environmental systems into which waste nanoproducts are released.
“We’ve seen many ‘wonder’ materials with early warning signs, including but by no means limited to asbestos, DDT and PCBs,” Archer said. “The failure of government regulators to take seriously the early warning signs surrounding nanotoxicity suggests they have learned nothing from this long list of disasters.”
Get your CVs ready: FDA’s future Center for Nanotechnology will be looking for qualified personel. Bureaucracies rarely turn down a chance to regulate.
More in the press release…
Friends of the Earth nanotechnology page…
The study (.pdf)…
Legal petition (.pdf) to the FDA…