Scientists think small to find 'nano' dangers
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By John von Radowitz
SCIENTISTS are to examine the potential dangers of "nanoparticles" in everyday products such as sunscreen in a £2.6 million project funded by the European Union.
Dr Andrew Nelson, a chemist at the University of Leeds, will lead a team of British, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish and Italian experts looking at the environmental impact of nanotechnology.
"There is a huge need for this research as some nanoparticles that are used in everyday products, such as paint and suntan cream, have never been properly tested," said Dr Nelson.
"What this project is aiming to do is assess the subtle, long-term environmental and health problems that these new particles may cause."
Nanotechnology involves creating and manipulating new materials at scales 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Particles at such small scales often have unusual properties.
The scientists are especially interested in nanoparticles made of metal oxides such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
These are used in a wide range of products, such as anti-bacterial cleaning agents, ointments, sunscreens and paints.
Scientists in Leeds will test the particles on model biological membranes and DNA to see whether they cause any long-term damage.
Across Europe the project will tackle how nanoparticles affect single-celled organisms and fish, and how they are transported by waterways