Why does a small city in California see a need to register nanotechnology research projects? One reason is that the Federal government has thus far avoided any potential role in developing best practices for health safety and environmental protection. Berkeley also has a long history of setting national regulatory precedents, as is explained in this San Francisco Gate article. And, there is a scientific basis for supporting a precautionary approach: a simple, self-reporting requirement in this case. The proposed hazardous materials ordinance amendment states: "The proposed amendment to Title 15 requires all businesses that manufacture or use nanoparticles to submit a written report of the current toxicology of the nanomaterials reported, and methods for safe handling, monitoring, containing, disposing, and tracking the inventory, thus assisting with prevention and mitigation of releases".That doesn't sound so bad.
The preamble to the ordinance explains the need in detail. "Nanoparticles physically act much like a gas. They can directly penetrate skin and lung tissue, and can be transported inside of cell membranes. Once inside the cell there is a possibility of potentially toxic reactions occurring on the surface of the particles. The particles are also sufficiently small so that they may bind to active sites within the cell, and thus block or interfere with essential reactions. In short, if a compound is relatively insoluble its biological activity in a nanoparticle form cannot be simply inferred from its biological activity in a bulk form.
We've previously posted on the adverse toxicological effects of carbon nano-tube exosures to lung tissue .