Lab beakerA couple of weeks ago, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) announced the adoption of standards for some testing of nanoparticles.  Specifically the organization, based in Geneva, set standards for studying the inhalation toxicity of these substances.  The United States is a member of the ISO, through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  Of course, the new standard has no binding effect on governments and their regulatory agencies, unless it is adopted.

According to the ISO web site, Dr. Peter Hatto, who chairs the ISO technical committee that developed the new standard, explained the need for it:

 “With the rapid expansion of nanotechnology applications comes a growing risk of exposure to potentially toxic substances, especially for workers in nanotechnology-based industries.  Moreover, if airborne nanoparticles were liberated from products, the general public could also be affected.”

Call it an advisory standard.  What is its value then?

●  It’s a start.  And coming from the international community, it will reach across national boundaries, with the possibility that it will generate not just regulations, but a measure of consistency and uniformity from country to country.

●  The statement of Dr. Hatto expressly recognizes the potential hazards for both workers in the nanotechnology industries and for consumers.

●  The standard recognizes that nanoparticles may behave differently from non-nanoscale particles.  Thus, Dr. Hatto said:  “Traditional methods used in other areas are considered insufficient for testing nanoparticles since parameters specific to them like particle surface area or number, might be crucial determinants of toxicity.”  Accordingly, the ISO developed specific methodologies to address these differences and the unique characteristics of nanoparticles.

●  The ISO effort highlights the fact that knowledge of the health and safety risks of nanoparticles is still in its infancy.  As ISO states, “scientists still have a lot to learn about nanoparticles.”

Will the standard be adopted or just be one more effort that is interesting and useful but doesn’t propel the safety efforts forward?

For information on the ISO and the inhalation toxicity standard, ISO 10808:2010, see

http://www.iso.org