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Health Safety and Environment Aspect of Nanotechnology and Technical Textile

1Muhammad Mushtaq Mangat


Nanotechnologies is an emerging field which is producing much attractive and long desired results.
It exploits distinctive properties of tiny matter, whose size is less than 100 nm. Application of nano-
materials in various fields is a solid proof of its acceptance. Technical textile is one of the area
which is highly relying on nanotechnologies. Keeping in view its demand it is expected that by
2015, its world market size will be more than one Trillion US $. There are a number of nano-
materials available in market to serve different purposes. These nano-materials are giving excellent
results in various fields, which include, medicine, textile, paint, packing, paints, reinforced material,
etc. End users are ready to pay extra for such products. Contrary to these advantages a possible
hazard is attached with the application of nano-materials due to complexity of the materials.
Literature is full of reports and discussions on this topic but still we are far away from any solid
occlusion. Many people are of the view that size and substance of nano-material is an instrumental
factor, which creates doubt about its safe use. Manufacturers are claiming that there is no harm in
using nano-materials, whereas researchers are trying to find out evidence to prove that nano-
materials application can pose a danger for human health. It is inferred from the whole discussion
that application of nano-material particularly in technical textile manufacturing is not without
danger and not safe at all. However, there is a need of research to find out the ways to have safe
application of nano-materials.

Nano-materials, danger to human health

Nanotechnology: an Introduction
Nanotechnology is a science which deals with the matters having one or more dimensions of less
than 100 nm. It is in use in many areas. Information, communication, paints, textiles, medicines,
cosmetics, sunscreens, etc are few examples. Nano-particles are already present in the environment

1 Author is a PhD student at Technical University Liberec Czech Republic.

generated by different combustion, industrial process, natural degradation, volcanoes and high
temperature blasts.

Nanotechnologies is a combined and cohesive outcome of development in science; chemistry,

physics, medicine and engineering. It has diverse uses dependent upon the nature of the area. For
example, in textile it is used to improve functionality of textile, whereas, in medicine it is used to
deliver medicine in deepest areas of the human body. Nano-particles can be used to reinforce any
material, making it scratch proof, for safe packing, etc.

Science has proved that due to drastic change in the surface area, there is a momentous, profound
and remarkable change in the properties of nano-particles from their source substance. It is not easy
to prognosticate behavior of nano-particles of a matter, even its properties are well established when
this matter is in normal size. This is due to the complexity attached with the interaction of nano-
particles at ultrafine level. Nano-particles are already present in the air. However, there are certain
chemical reactions which can be used to produce nano-particles.

Size of nano-particles is less than 100 nm, which is equivalent to some biological molecules. Due to
their ultrafine nature they can pass through many filters of body and can reach in heart, brain, lungs.
One can presume that nano-particles can reach anywhere in the body as biological molecules do.
Most of the nano-particles are originated from metals. Here question arises about its reaction with
most critical parts of the body. It is an established fact that properties of matter at ultrafine level are
quite different from its normal size. This review provides concerns of different institutes and
researchers about its potential effect on health, environment and safety.

Textile is one of the most aggressive areas where nano-materials are applied and there is an
increasing trend in the consumption. Many institutions are providing fundamental support to textile
sector for immediate adoption of this most advance technology. For example, Indian government is
quite keen in this process. Srivastava and Chowdhury (2008) report clearly that Indian government
is providing huge and non collapse-able required funds as openly declared by the president of India
to R&D in this filed. They have identified three main areas to work; promotion of nanotechnology
R&D and application, regulation of healthcare, and protection of consumer interests.
Notwithstanding that there are many areas where required input is not available. There is a severe
need to have a cohesive and comprehensive working from experts of health. Finally Srivastava and
Chowdhury (2008) conclude that there is single focus on promoting the nano technology and other
factors like health issues and governing rules to apply nano technology are being completely
ignored. It is obvious from the above statement that different players are running in their own
selected direction and no proper input is being taken into account. It is presumed that such single
focus effort will not bring required results and world might face another dilemma.

In textile finishings, there are three common ways to apply nano-materials, which is also called
special finishes for textile; absorption, masking and prevention (Gupta, 2008). There is a long list of
special finishes to serve different purposes. However we can summarize these finishing into
following categories:

1. To prevent formation of odor, bacteria

2. To keep garment fresh for a long time
3. Products to keep garment dry
4. To protect garments from spills and stains
5. Moisture management
6. Anti static properties

To achieve above mentioned objectives, there are a number of high tech products easily available in
the market. They act in a different way. One thing is common that material is of nano size. It ranges
from 1.00 nm to 100 nm. General size and description on nano-particles is as under:

Nano-Particles (Ultrafine) <100nm

Fine >0.1µm
Respirable (rat) < 3 µm
Respirable (human) < 5 µm
Inhalable (human) ! 10-20 µm
It is important to note that in textile finishing the application of nanotechnologies is less controlled
as compared to other areas. Keeping it in view it is presumed that textile industry is more prone to
negative effects of nanotechnologies.
Nano-Particles and Toxicology

There is a general concern about the safe application of nanotechnologies. People are seriously
worried about its negative effects on human health, environment and safety. There are many
research reports published in last couple of years which have repeatedly warned about toxicology of
nano-particles. Contrary to all these valued reports still there is no solid evidence available which
could be used to take any legal action concerning about this technology. It is primarily due to that
testing incapability of researchers to make any significant correlation between nano-particles and
any unwanted outcome. Academic world is putting a constant effort to reach at any solid
conclusion. Here we are giving a review of different research reports, published in last couple of
years to have a clear view about complexity of this emerging and most serious issue. This effort is
to create awareness before any shaking disaster.

A funded and of very high profile research project is being carried out by CIC biomaGUNE to
identify the risk attached with nanotechnologies applications for human. This research is being
conducted in the framework of the European HINAMOX (Health Impact of Engineered Metal and
Metal Oxide Nanoparticles: Response, Bioimaging and Distribution at Cellular and Body Level).
This project has been designed to clearly assess the possible negative impact of suncream on human
health since there are many metals and their oxides are present in these creams and producers has
added nano-particles of various matters to have better results. EU has provided 2.3 million euros for
this project. There are many countries involved in this project and its findings are expected by the
end of 2012. Background of this project is that till now there is no concrete evidence about the
possible negative consequences of nanotechnologies on human health. It is evidence that people are
much concerned about application of nanotechnologies and they have started research on different
products available in market, first they have selected sun-creams.

Warheit (2004) conducted a study to diagnose the negative impact of nano-particles on lungs. This
study was conducted on rats by using nano-particles. End results show that there is a significant
correlation between the effect and the size of the materials. Warheit (2004) has put forward that
pulmonary toxicity studies in rats provides a convincing evidence that nano-particles creates
“adverse inflammatory responses compared with larger particles of identical composition at
equivalent mass concentrations”. It is mainly due to the greater surface area and free radical
generation. Warheit (2004) has reported that the continuous interaction of nano-particles with cells
appear to play important roles in nano-particles toxicity. Furthermore, its effect increases it singlet
form rather than aggregated particles, when they are inhaled. Finally Warheit (2004) concludes,
“Results from the limited toxicological database have fostered the perception that all nano-
particles-particles are toxic”. To support findings Warheit quotes the preliminary results of coating
of nano-particles of TiO2 have added pulmonary toxicity.

European Commission Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General have formed Scientific
Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks. This committee concludes that it is
still not possible to speak about the toxicology behavior of nano-particles of known materials.
Nevertheless there is a significance change in the surface area, which is mainly due to the increase
in volume. There are many ambiguity attached with the unexpected and crucial behavior of nano-
particles at singlet and aggregate levels. However, committee reports that epidemiological studies
on ambient air pollution provide enough matter to believe that there is an “adverse effects of
particulate matter on humans”. “With the exception of airborne particles delivered to the lung,
information on the biological fate of nanoparticles including distribution, accumulation,
metabolism, and organ specific toxicity is still minimal” (SCENIHR, 2006).

Committee further reports that there are studies available which provides enough material to
support the initial perception that there is a huge risk attached to the application of nano-particles
without care. Committee quotes nephrotoxicity, effects on reproduction and genotoxic
effects.Committee further quotes that some nano-particles are the verified reasons of granulomas,
fibrosis and tumoural reactions in the lungs. Committee has identified titanium dioxide which
demonstrates high pulmonary toxicity when it is on the nano-scale, whereas, it is a non-toxic
material when it is in a normal condition and particles are not ultrafine.

We can asses the significance of this issue from different activities and researches funded by
European Union. European Commission funded a A RTO project to estimate and identify the role of
not only nano-particles as well as micro particles on human health. A consortium of six well known
institutes was made to look after this project. Report of the project is quite alarming. Gatti (2005),
chief coordinator of this project is of the view that nanotechnologies can surely introduce sever
health risks. Nevertheless report did not advocate that nanotechnologies should be banned rather
they have suggested different means and ways to have a safe use of nanotechnologies, like, no
eating should be allowed in production area of nano-particles. Here we can raise question about the
area where we are applying these material. Particularly in textile, where we quote nano-particles on
textile surface and apply through any other means. Researcher has shown their concern about the
impact of a particle whose size is less than cell size and equal to protein. They are of the view that
there are sufficient evidences and reports available that such metallic particles when they are of size
less than a cell and can reach any part of the body have produced unwanted results. In this report
there a list of most nano-particles. List is composed of nano-particles, nano-particles-spheres, nano-
particles-structures and surface and fullness. Finally this project concludes that a serious risk is
attached with application of nanotechnologies and cell mechanism is insufficient to react

Report published by gives an insight of nanotechnologies. This

report reveals that nanotechnologies is a modern science which is gaining momentum at a very high
speed and it is expected that by 2015, it will cross one Trillion US $ market size. Note current
market size of clothing is less than 400 Billion US $. Report further elaborates that there are drastic
benefits of nanotechnologies. It has given solution of many problems but at the same time, there are
possibilities of risk for human health. Nevertheless still there is no concrete evidence rather there is
a mixed outcome. It looks like a number game between academics and producers. Both are trying to
prove that their point of view is more accurate. Nevertheless, this report has raised a very simple
question. Is nanotechnologies a boon or bane for humankind?

This question needs to be answered before wide application of nanotechnologies. Many reporters
have given their view that this technology can create harm for human being if not used in a well
monitored way. I personally feel that this technology carries a lot of risks starting from
manufacturing to use. It is possible that during manufacturing much care will be taken but not easy
to have controlled environment during application, particularly in textile finishes.

Beringer (2005) presented his findings in a meeting organized by Material Science Society.
Beringer has provided details of nanotechnologies applications in textile finishings. Apparently it
looks that nanotechnologies has created a revolution in some fields and its use is much useful.
Contrary to this observation, Beringer (2005) also exposes the negative impact of this technology
on health, environment and safety (HES). Beringer concludes that there is a potential risk of nano-
particles on HES and quotes that carbon particles of 35 nm which were exposed to rats were found
in their brain just after one day. It shows the penetration power of nano-particles to penetrate into
the deepest parts of human body. Based on all such observation Beringer (2005) does not consider
application on nanotechnologies safe in textile finishing without proper care, which apparently
seems difficult.

Gsatti & Montanari (2007) have shown their concern on the application of nanotechnologies. They
have provided evidence from the history and quoted worst effect of radiotherapy without care. They
believe that use of nanotechnologies is quite useful for humankind in all fields, particularly for
treatment of diseases. They also warn that its application without taking proper measures can create
worst effects. To emphasize on the safe application of nanotechnologies they take support of four
different projects initiated in Europe; Nano-safe1, Nano-safe2, Nanoderm, Nano-pathology. In these
projects a possible risk has be identified. It is a warning call for people who wish to use
nanotechnologies. Gatti & Montanari (2007) have further elaborated the situation by answering
most common question about the presence of nano-particles in air due to many other factors. It is a
fact that rapid rise of temperature, smoke from engines and many other processes which are
common in industry can produce nano-particles. Nano-particles of less than100-nm-sized particles
can bypass lung barrier in 60 seconds and reach the liver in 60 minutes, Gatti and Montanari
concluded. All above discussion leads to the conclusion that nanotechnologies is like many other
inventions in past which were much useful in various fields but people had to do a lot of effort to
develop its safe use after paying a huge cost. This technology also needs a careful attitude in its

Based on initial studies conducted to assess any possible negative impact of nanotechnologies on
health, environment and safety it is too early to make any final observation. Nevertheless results are
not giving any certificate that nanotechnology is safe for health and environment. Rather
researchers are putting forward that initially reports depict that serious risk is attached with
nanotechnologies. Another common observation of various reports need a constant effort to
identify any possible threat and well in time adopt caring attitude during manufacturing and
applications so that humankind should avoid any disaster. On the other hand we find that
companies prefer nanotechnologies for future investment and huge funds are being put in this field.
We find a fierce competition. It is an irony that we are tilting towards nanotechnologies without any
valid studies available to confirm that nanotechnology is safe for health, environment and safety.
Furthermore, both ends manufacturers and users are not fully aware about the consequences. It
looks that being a useful technology people are running fast to have a big share of market without
knowing any proper study of its negative effects. Review of different reports suggests that both ends
should put all efforts to have in depth studies to probe that nanotechnology is safe for humankind.
From all discussions it comes to conclusion that nanotechnologies; production and application is not
without risk for health and environment. It can create severe issues during its application in
technical textile production. It may be during application or while wearer uses it. There are more
chances of passing nano-particles through all body filters and react with cells in different parts of
body. It is recommended that we should be more careful and should watch negative impact of nano-
particles in producing technical textiles.

Beringer, j. (2005). Nanotechnoligies in Textile Finishing: State of Art and Future
Prospects. Material Research Socitey Boston
Gatti, A. M. (2005). Nano-pathology: The role of micro and nanoparticles in biomaterial-
induced pathology. Emilla: European Commisison

Gatti, A. M., & Montanari, S. (2007). Nanopathology: The Health Impact of Nanoparticles
(Hardcover): Pan Stanford Publishing; 1 edition.

Ostiguy, C., Lapointe, G., Trottier, M. n., Ménard, L., Cloutier, Y., Boutin, M., et al. (2006).
Health Effects of Nanoparticles Available from
SCENIHR (2006). The appropriateness of existing methodologies to assess the potential
risks associated with engineered and adventitious products of nanotechnologies.
Retrieved from
Srivastava, N., & Chowdhury, N. (2008). Regulation of Health related Nano Applications in
India: Exploring the limitations of the Current Regulatory Design. Paper presented
at the International Conference: Mapping the uncertainty of nanotechnology.
Challenges to law, ethics and policy making. .
Warheit, D. B. (2004). Nanoparticles: Health impacts? . Materailstoday, 7(2), 32-35.