Nanoparticle damage

Researchers at Birmingham University have won £500,000 worth of funding for a new facility in which they will analyse the effects of nanoparticles.

Researchers at Birmingham University’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences have won £500,000 worth of funding for a new Facility for Environmental Nanoparticle Analysis and Characterisation (FENAC).

The researchers will analyse the physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles and will look at whether they have significant adverse effects on human and environmental health.

Although there is already some evidence that nanoparticles cause behavioural changes, cellular and organ damage and brain damage in fish, as well as lowered growth and mortality in organisms such as algae, invertebrates and plants, there is currently very little EU legislation governing the manufacture and use of nanoparticles.

Nanotechnology is a growing industry with a global research and development spend of approximately $9bn (£6.5bn) in 2005. The overall global market is expected to reach $2trn by 2015.

Nanoparticles have novel properties with many different chemistries and sizes and are mostly defined as being between one and 100 nanometres in size. They are already being used by manufacturers in many different products and processes such as suntan lotions, cosmetics, toothpastes, antibiotics and fabrics.

Researchers at the new facility will provide expert analysis and interpretation of the physical and chemical characteristics of manufactured nanoparticles. They will also attempt to understand how nanoparticles move through the environment and how they might be harmful to organisms and to humans.

The research will be published openly and shared with relevant industry and government departments. It is expected that the results will strongly contribute to emerging government policy on nanoparticles.

Prof Jamie Lead, lead investigator from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science and facility director, said: ‘Nanoparticles are already being discharged into the environment and this discharge is likely to increase substantially in the short and medium term. The properties that make them attractive in industrial processes and consumer goods also mean that they are potentially harmful to both human and environmental health.

‘We aim to provide an understanding of the possible environmental and human health issues surrounding the use and discharge of manufactured nanoparticles into the environment.’

The funding for the new facility has been awarded to the university by the Natural Environment Research Council.