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August 20, 2009

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Tiny particles linked to permanent lung damage

SEVEN young Chinese women suffered permanent lung damage and two of them later died after working for months without proper protection in a paint factory using nanoparticles, Chinese researchers have reported.

Nanotechnology is the science of the extremely tiny.

One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, and nanoparticles measure between 1 and 100 nanometers.

Apart from medicine, the technology is used in products such as sporting goods, tires and electronics and is expected to generate an annual market of around US$1 trillion by 2015.

Nanotechnology is also used in sunscreens, cosmetics, food packaging, clothing, disinfectants, household appliances, surface coatings, paints and outdoor furniture varnishes, according to experts.

The report was the first time the dangers of nanotechnology have been documented in humans, although animal studies have shown it resulted in lung damage in rats.

"These cases arouse concern that long-term exposure to nanoparticles without protective measures may be related to serious damage to human lungs," the researchers said.

"Their tiny diameter means that they can penetrate the body's natural barriers, particularly through contact with damaged skin or by inhalation or ingestion."

In an article in the European Respiratory Journal, the researchers said the seven women had worked for between five and 13 months in an unidentified factory spraying paint on polystyrene boards before they fell ill with breathing difficulties and rashes on their faces and arms.

The research team was led by Song Yuguo from the occupational disease and clinical toxicology department at Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing.

The doctors found the women had excess fluids in the cavities surrounding their lungs and hearts, conditions that impair breathing and heart function. Examination of their lung tissues and fluids revealed nanoparticles measuring about 30 nanometers in diameter - matching nanoparticles that health officials later found in materials used in the factory where the women worked.


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