Report Calls for Research on Risks from Nanomaterials in Household Waste

Published March 9, 2016

A new report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) highlights the need for further research on the potential risks to human health and the environment from the increasing presence of engineered nanomaterials in waste treatment processes. According to OECD, an international organization focused on improving the economic and social well-being of people around the world, the number of products containing engineered nanomaterials increased 500 percent from 2006 to 2011. As items such as car tires, smartphone batteries, deodorant, and hair products are discarded, they enter landfill sites, incinerators, and wastewater treatment facilities that aren’t designed to filter out nanoparticles. Ultimately, says OECD, nanoparticles that pass through sewage processes end up in agricultural fertilizer, recycled goods, and sewage plant effluent.

“Existing research suggests the distinctive properties of nanomaterials – which can more easily penetrate skin and cells than larger compounds – may carry health and environmental risks including cancer causing properties in lungs, toxic effects to the nervous system and antibacterial properties that could harm ecosystems,” OECD’s press release reads. “Despite this, waste containing engineered nanomaterials is disposed of along with conventional waste, with no special precautions or treatment.”

The new report, “Nanomaterials in Waste Streams: Current Knowledge on Risks and Impacts,” provides a literature review on recycling, incineration, landfilling, and wastewater treatment, and includes information from four case studies contributed by Canada, France, Germany, and Switzerland.

Chapter two of the report discusses the potential risks to workers during recycling of waste containing nanomaterials and recommends protective measures for reducing and preventing exposures. OECD’s report identifies several possibilities of worker exposure to nanomaterials, including exposure to fine or ultrafine dust containing nano-objects released during tasks such as the transport, sorting, shredding, grinding, or pouring of waste-containing nanomaterials.

A list of the 34 member countries that participate in OECD is posted on the organization’s website. More information about OECD is available online.