An Overview of Nanotoxicology

V. Castranova
National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, US

Keywords: nanotoxicology


Nanotoxicology is the manipulation of matter on a near-atomic scale to produce nanoparticles and arrange them to form new structures, materials, and devises. Nanoparticles are engineered structures having one dimension less than 100 nm. Nanotechnology allows the tight control of particle size, shape, surface features, and chemistry. Since a high percentage of atoms in a nanoparticle are on the particle surface, quantum effects occur, and nanoparticles exhibit properties uniquely different from fine particles (0.1–2.5 µm) of the same composition. These unique properties can be exploited to produce commercial products with enhanced mechanical, electrical, and absorptive properties. Therefore, nanoparticles have applications in cosmetics, electronics, batteries, structural materials, medical imaging, targeted drug delivery, and bone grafting. Nanotechnology is expected to grow into a trillion dollar industry employing millions of workers worldwide over the next decade. Since nanoparticles exhibit unique physical-chemical properties, it is likely that their bioactivity would differ greatly from the analogous fine particles. Nanotoxicology is the evaluation of the bioactivity of these nanoparticles. This presentation will summarize the activities and results of the Nanotoxicology Program at NIOSH. Results indicate that pulmonary exposure to selected nanoparticles can result in adverse pulmonary and cardiovascular effects. Therefore, it is prudent public health policy to control exposure to assure worker and consumer safety.