On March 31, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) issued a warning against using a household product containing nanoparticles that has led to what is apparently the first recall of a nanotechnology-based product. In a period of less than two weeks, regional poison control centers in Germany received about 80 reports of people coughing or complaining of fever and headache, and several people were hospitalized with pulmonary edema, after using "Magic Nano" surface-sealing sprays.
Cleaning-product manufacturer Kleinmann GmbH, which packages and sells the sprays, quickly withdrew aerosol formulations that also contain a propellant and warned against their further use. The company has sold the products in pump bottles for more than two years and has had no reports of problems. The sprays are designed for treating glass and ceramic surfaces to make them water- and dirt-repellant for easier cleaning.
Magic Nano products contain silica and silicone nanoparticles as well as ethanol, water, and other ingredients, according to the poison control center GIZ-Nord. Although Kleinmann did not name specific suppliers involved, it has partnered with nanomaterial producer Nanopool, along with companies spun off from the Institute for New Materials in Saarbrucken.
According to BfR, it seems that users had "inhaled components of the spray which had remained in the ambient air as fine particles of the aerosol." The exact cause of the health problems and any connection to the nanoparticles or propellant have yet to be established, BfR points out. Kleinmann says it and its suppliers are cooperating with authorities to understand and clarifyuse of the problem.
Organizations seeking better risk assessments, if not outright controls, for nanomaterials responded quickly to news of the recall. Placing the blame on the nanoparticles, Patrick Lin, research director of the Nanoethics Group, says, "This should serve as a wake-up call to regulators, industry, and the public that nanotechnology???s risks are not just theoretical, but all too real."
Taking a more cautionary position, Richard Denison, senior scientist at Environmental Defense, asked, "Isn't it time we learned to understand and address risks before we market products like these to consumers?" The public interest group wants to see more research into environmental, health, and safety risks along with associated regulatory policies. Meanwhile, it is working with DuPont to create a framework for the responsible development, production, use, and disposal of nanomaterials.