Nanoparticles – The Past and Future (with Nekomodel X)
by Sheryll Mangahas and Pinaky Bhattacharyya
Nanoparticles encompass materials one-billionth of a meter (10-9), also known as a nanometer. Materials at this scale can exhibit extraordinary properties. Nanoparticles have a history of providing unique features to human products. The most famous early example of nanoparticle use is the Lycurgus Cup, a Roman artifact from the 4th century which reflects different colors of light when illuminated externally versus internally due to silver and gold nanoparticles. Many centuries later in 1974, Norio Taniguchi was first to use the word “nanotechnology” in a conference paper called “On the Basic Concept of ‘Nano-Technology’”. As defined by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) “nanotechnology” is “the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications”.
Over the past 50 years, engineered nanoparticles have been incorporated within a wide variety of manufactured goods. Carbon nanotubes are organic (i.e., carbon-based) nanoparticles which are flexible yet strong. As the production of carbon nanotubes becomes more cost effective, they are included in polymers for sporting equipment, transportation, and 3D printing. Metal nanoparticles include cerium oxide, copper, silicon dioxide, silver, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These nanoparticles are used in apparel, bottled spices, dietary supplements, batteries, food-contact material, wound dressings, and UV protection. Copper and silver nanoparticles contain antimicrobial properties which makes them attractive for incorporation into textiles and personal care products. Since titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles reflect UV radiation, they are popular sunscreen chemicals. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles also imbue brightness, so they are often integrated into cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, paints and coatings along with processed food.
The possibility nanoparticles may be harmful was considered back in 1998 when a reporter for Science named Robert Service published an editorial asking if due to their size could carbon nanotubes be the next asbestos. Worker studies on carbon nanotubes and other nanoparticles regarding their association with lung injury have since been published. In addition to being inhaled, nanoparticles can also be ingested. Earlier this year, the EU banned the use of titanium dioxide in food starting August 2022. The reasoning behind the ban is the bioaccumulation potential of titanium dioxide nanoparticles due to its long-half life and its ability to cause DNA strand breaks along with chromosomal damage in cell studies.
We recently completed an update to our general liability loss model – welcome to the world of Nekomodel X! So what is the latest regarding nanoparticles? The Nekomodel X results for carbon nanotubes suggest an overall EL (expected loss) of $1.1B driven by consumer exposure to 3D printing and workers in the automobile industry. The associated bodily injury harms are pneumoconiosis and lung cancer. Worker lung injury may also occur from other nanoparticles. Silicon dioxide nanoparticles have an EL around one quarter that of carbon nanotubes, however the majority is driven by construction workers developing pneumoconiosis. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles are the top nanoparticle hazard in Nekomodel X with an EL of $1.3B. The top drivers are from construction workers regarding two types of bodily harm: lung injury and neurodegenerative disease. Another big contributor to the EL is the consumption of pharmaceuticals by consumers resulting in colorectal cancer and neurodegenerative disease. The remaining modeled nanoparticles (cerium oxide, copper, silver, and zinc oxide) are not currently projected to have billion-dollar losses and the combined EL is estimated to be less than $150M.
Due to their special abilities, nanoparticles are used in a wide variety of present-day products. However, what makes them remarkable can result in latent toxic effects. As we prepare for the future, looking back at past events with a strong grasp of current science can inform on what is to come. We built Nekomodel X to do just that.