Australia union warns of nanotech health risks
CANBERRA, April 14 (Reuters) - Advanced nano technologies, shrinking manufacturing to molecular level, could bring with them a human health catastrophe to rival past use of cancer-linked asbestos, Australia's top union group said on Tuesday.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said there was little protection for workers exposed to so-called nanotech, or the science of building either machines or simple structures at a scale too small for even a light microscope to pick up.
"Remember when asbestos was introduced, it was considered to be a miracle product, and it wasn't until many years later that we found the devastating effect it had," ACTU Assistant Secretary Geoff Fary told state radio.
"There should be an abundance of caution with nanotechnology to make sure that we're not going to reap a similar awful harvest in years to come," Fary said.
Asbestos fibres, resistant to heat, fire and chemicals, were widely used in construction and insulation before being linked to asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma and other cancers.
Nano-scale technologies, 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, are now used in hundreds of ordinary items from car fuel lines, bed sheets, cosmetics and even sunscreens, where tiny zinc oxide particles are used to absorb dangerous UV light.
Nanotechnologies are fast evolving into multimillion-dollar market around the globe, with research stretching from diamond production to use in food and health.
Fary said nano-particles were so small they could be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, potentially causing diseases in years to come, as some forms of asbestos had done.
The unions called for Australia's centre-left government to begin a register of companies using nanotechnology, while introducing new safety tests and product labelling for consumers and workers using nanotech products.
Europe's Parliament last month passed food regulation amendments forcing food manufacturers to state explicitly on labelling if products contained nanoparticles.
A European Union agency, the European Food Safety Authority, has also called for new testing to gauge the toxicity and stability of nanoparticles in food, putting at the top of the list of substances from which workers need protection.
The French government is currently looking at laws to regulate manufacture, import and marketing of nanotech products. (Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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