Nanomaterials found detrimental to sea life

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Nanomaterials found detrimental to sea life
Published research from the University of California, Davis, casts doubt on whether personal care products can be safely designed with nano-zinc and nano-copper oxides.

Whole-system beauty that delivers beneficial personal care products to consumers, generates lasting revenue for companies and does more good than harm to the environment is the way forward, according to industry analysts. (Read more.​) So this is bad news for the proponents of nanomaterial ingredients.

The research study explored what effect engineered nanomaterials have on the embryos of a particular sea creature, the white sea urchin. Results were published in the American Chemical Society’s journal of Environmental Science & Technology in an article called, Copper Oxide and Zinc Oxide Nanomaterials Act as Inhibitors of Multidrug Resistance Transport in Sea Urchin Embryos: Their Role as Chemosensitizers.

In essence, urchin embryos were exposed to nano-zinc oxide of the level and sort that is conventionally used in sunscreen, an ostensibly “non-toxic” level.  Dye was used to make toxins more apparent to the researchers. “The green dye show[ed] that other toxins are retained when [urchin embryos are] exposed to nanomaterials, and not pumped out of the embryo by its natural defense mechanism,” ​explains Nanowerk News.

The upshot: “We show that low concentrations of nano-CuO and nano-ZnO can make embryos more susceptible to other contaminants, representing a potent amplification of nanomaterial-related developmental toxicity,” ​state the researchers in their article abstract.

Personal care ingredients that have the potential to harm aquatic life or coastal, marine and freshwater environments are not popular. So companies formulating sun care, toothpaste, and other beauty products with nano-zinc and nano-copper oxide should be wary.

Industry leading brands and legislators have, in large part, come to a consensus on the damage that plastic microbeads are causing to wildlife and the environment. Many prominent brands have eliminated or have set an objective to phase the ingredient out.

“In the past year plastic microbead pollution has become a significant issue in the United States, with lawmakers at both a  Federal and State level implementing new regulations to outlaw [microbeads] in personal care formulations,” ​reported Cosmetics Design​ earlier this month. New Jersey and Illinois have set future bans on the beads. Additionally, national legislators in the US and in Canada​ have recently championed legal bans.

Risks to human and environmental health from engineered nanomaterials are no secret. “Of the various kinds of nanomaterials used in cosmetics, it appears that the metallic nanomaterials like titanium dioxide, nano-copper, and nano-silver may raise health concerns along with any use of carbon nanotubes or buckeyballs,”​ Jaydee Hanson, policy director at the International Center for Technology Assessment told Cosmetics Design in an item weighing the pros and cons of nano-ingredients​.

Scientists remain hopeful that these tiny engineered ingredients will be commercially viable.  “The nanotechnology industry wants to come up with designs that are practical but still safe for the environment and human health. The [University of California Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology] is trying to help fine-tune this,”​ attests Gary Cherr, an author of the urchin study as well as professor and interim director of the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, and an affiliate of the UC Davis Coastal Marine Sciences Institute.

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