nano-chemical exposures implicated in workplace deaths

A study from Chinese scientists just out today reports on seven workers in a paint factory that were exposed to nanoparticles along with many other hazardous chemicals during their toxic workday. Two have already died of their diseases. All suffered shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs and around the heart, non-specific inflammation of lung tissue, and fibrosis in the lungs. Nanoparticles about 30 nm in size were co-located in the diseased areas of the lungs.

Experts are pointing out that the chemical nature and source of the nanoparticles are unknown, along with their contribution, if any, to the diseases of the workers. (see ICON blog, and 2020 Science blog)

The tragedy is that these deaths were preventable. The factory workers were in a poorly ventilated room, exposed to a toxic suite of chemicals, and with nothing more than cotton gauze masks to cover their faces.

Unfortunately, this describes the working conditions of many factories in China and around the world. Moreover, the chemical industry in China and other Asian countries is rapidly growing. (The China chemical market represents 10% of its Gross Domestic Product, according to one report).

If nano-scale chemicals represent the future of the chemical industry, then I sure hope that our current failures to protect workers and prevent toxic environmental releases don't also represent the future. Unfortunately, without some dramatic overhaul of chemical regulations and workplace protections, it seems like the future is now. And, it doesn't look safe from where I stand!

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Health program

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