Nanotech Litigation May Mirror Asbestos LitigationJan 11, 2017
Ubiquitous Nanoparticles may Enter the Body inMuch the Same Way as Asbestos
Nanoparticle technologies use microscopic carbon nanotubes and nanomaterials, which are lightweight, flexible, and strong products with a large array of applications such as for use in armored vests, fire protection, sunscreens, medical devices, and food packaging. Concerns exist about unknown nanomaterial risks to human health and the environment.
Nanotechnology is the design and manufacture of materials that are one-billionth of one meter, which is smaller than what is viewable with a regular light microscope, according to Reuters. Used in hundreds of products, nanotechnology may also be found in stain-resistant clothing, cosmetics, and food additives; its human health effects are not clearly understood. For instance, nanoparticles may penetrate skin or move through and between bodily organs and scientists remain unclear on the effect this activity could have on the body.
Parker Waichman LLP is a national personal injury law firm with decades of experience representing clients in defective product litigation. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations to individuals with questions about filing nanotube, nanomaterial lawsuit.
Between 2009 and 2016, revenue from nanotech products in the United States expanded more than six-fold and is expected to exceed $500 billion in 2017, according to government estimates, wrote Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs (BNA).
According to BNA, nanotechnology begins with nanoparticles, which are as small as between one and 100 nanometers in size. For comparison, a strand of human DNA is less than half the diameter of a nanometer. Because nanomaterials are created at such a tiny scale, its properties may change such as the melting point, electrical conductivity, and chemical reactivity. Changes such as this may create the potential for unexpected risks and injuries. Many worry that there may be a long latency period for nanomaterial injuries to appear, much like what is seen with asbestos injuries.
One law professor tracking the issue of nanoparticles agrees with the asbestos comparison, saying that, eventually, toxic tort litigation involving nanomaterials could follow a pattern similar to what has been seen asbestos lawsuits. Distinguished Emeritus Professor Jean Eggen at Widener University Delaware Law School specializes in toxic torts, civil procedure, and science and the law, Bloomberg BNA wrote. "If personal injuries associated with nanomaterials include diseases that typically develop over years or decades from the time of exposure-such as cancer-then the picture of the populations in need of relief may not be clear for decades," Eggen told Bloomberg BNA. "I think we are in an early pre-litigation stage," she added. "This includes conducting research and amassing information on the potential hazards of nanomaterials, something that is unclear at the present time." She also noted the importance of latency periods, pointing out that in the same way that the initial asbestos cases involved workers compensation claims, nanotech tort suits might too.
Looking at asbestos litigation, the courts allowed claims to proceed in court after the hazards of asbestos became widely known. This took a great deal of time despite that asbestos was ubiquitous. The slow deterioration of asbestos led to "the potential for a broader population to be exposed," and, following further degradation, the potential for the "substance to contaminate the environment was high," she said, Bloomberg BNA reported.
"Nanotechnology could follow a similar course," Eggen told Bloomberg BNA. "Because of the potential for nanotechnology to touch upon every aspect of our lives-consumer products such as sunscreens, medical treatments such as drug delivery devices inside human bodies, food packaging, etc.-the foreseeable scope of litigation is vast." She also noted that nanotechnology today, like asbestos when it was first developed as insulation, is "a situation where innovation has outpaced investigation into the potential health and safety hazards of the technologies."
Research Likens Potential Nanotube Diseases to Asbestos Diseases
Nanotubes, a type of nanomaterial are also feared to pose similar health risks as asbestos. Nanotubes were discovered in 1991 and are, essentially, rolled-up carbon sheets of tiny, super-strong carbon fibers used to produce materials much lighter and stronger than steel. Nanotubes may be found in a variety of common products, such as tennis rackets.
Scientists have long wondered if needle-shaped Nanotubes may cause diseases that are similar to those caused by needle-shaped asbestos fibers, such as lung cancer; mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity; and asbestosis, in which lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue. In fact, researchers who previously reported in Nature Nanotechnology conducted testing on the technology. The researchers suggested that, over time, lesions caused by long nanotubes would develop into mesothelioma with laboratory and nanotube manufacturer workers considered to be in the greatest danger. Concern was also expressed over nanotubes that embedded in golf club or bicycle frames. These may not be immediately released and could be released later, in much the same way as asbestos in concrete or automobile brake pads had been inhaled by construction workers or mechanics.
In the study, researchers injected four groups: One with short Nanotubes, five microns in length; one with long Nanotubes, about 20 microns long; one with asbestos; and one with small carbon clumps. Those injected with short nanotubes or small carbon clumps did not develop disease; however, those injected with long nanotubes or asbestos developed lesions on the tissue lining. Ken Donaldson, a professor of respiratory toxicology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and one of the authors of the article, felt certain that, in time, the lesions caused by the long Nanotubes would develop into mesothelioma.
When foreign particles, such as smoke or dust, enter the lungs, macrophages cells surround and remove them. When asbestos is inhaled, some of the fibers are too long for the macrophages, which allow lesions to develop. The researchers theorized that long nanotubes would cause similar problems. The researchers did not analyze how easily nanotubes become airborne or if nanotubes are able to lodge themselves in the lungs when inhaled and noted that additional research is needed to determine the extent of these potential risks.
Vince Castranova, chief of the pathology and physiology research branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in Morgantown, West Virginia, said that, while the study was very well done, the studies were not conducted over a long enough period of time to determine long-term pathology.
Legal Help for Nanomaterials, Nanotube Injuries
Parker Waichman has years of experience representing clients in numerous personal injury lawsuits. If you or someone you know was implanted with nanomaterials and suffered injuries, you may have valuable legal rights. Our firm offers free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).