New research published by the Quebec Occupational Health and Safety Research Institute (IRSST) examines, for the second time, literature on the health risks of nanoparticles (NP), according to an IRSST news release. The review reveals the scope of research in the field and that the toxic effects of NP on humans and animals are only partially understood.

According to the research report, it has been established that certain insoluble nanoparticles can pass through various protective barriers of living organisms, to be distributed throughout the body and accumulate in certain organs and cells. Toxic effects have already been documented at the pulmonary, cardiac, reproductive, renal, cutaneous and cellular levels, according to the report.

The IRSST literature review published in 2006 concluded the toxicity was linked to the surface of the nanoparticles rather than their mass. This new report indicates numerous other factors might influence the toxicity of these products, including their size, number, shape, crystalline structure, tendency to aggregate, surface reactivity, chemical composition and solubility.

Assessment of risks to health must take into account exposure routes, the duration and the concentration of particles, according to the report. It must also consider individual susceptibility and the interaction of particles with the biological constituents of NP and their biological history.

The IRSST will soon be publishing a guide to good practices for handling nanoparticles safely.