Nanonickel – increased danger or not?

Recently published reports indicate that a researcher has developed a reaction to nickel nanoparticles [1, 2]. “A 26-year-old female chemist formulated polymers and coatings usually using silver ink particles. When she later began working with nickel nanoparticle powder weighed out and handled on a lab bench with no protective measures, she developed throat irritation, nasal congestion, “post nasal drip,” facial flushing, and new skin reactions to her earrings and belt buckle which were temporally related to working with the nanoparticles. Subsequently she was found to have a positive reaction to nickel …” [2]

This single incident has been employed to point out the dangers of working with nanomaterials. Since nanoparticle nickel is the cause of this reaction, it is interesting that a quick search on the web turns up a few interesting facts. A report [3] that quotes an article in the Pediatrics journal starts with an incident where an 11 year-old had a “.. body rash that appears to be caused by his use of an Apple iPad. The popular tablet is reportedly a potential source of causing nickel allergy reactions”. Notice the plural of the word “reactions”, which indicates that this is not an isolated case. Later in the article, it quotes Sharon Jacob, a dermatologist at Rady Children’s Hospital, “national data showing that about 25 percent of children who get skin tests for allergies have nickel allergies, versus about 17 percent a decade ago.” There is at least one web site that indicates they sell a Nickel Allergy kit and coating material for covering nickel to prevent a reaction from skin contact with nickel. [4]

This brings us back to the original incident that blames nickel nanomaterial for the cause of the workers problems, while implying it was the nanoparticles that were the cause and not related to the overall known problem with allergy to nickel regardless of the size. This is similar to a situation about 2004, when nano coal dust was shown to have a detrimental effect on human lungs. It had been known that coal dust had a serious detrimental effect on human lungs.

I would prefer that researchers looked at potential other causes before crying “wolf” based on nanomaterials being involved. These type of publications create negative impressions on nanomaterials and also on scientific research. There are many applications of nanomaterials that are being safely developed that will improve human health. We currently use many materials that are dangerous if not properly applied. Why should nanomaterials be considered in the same light?






About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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