Solid Waste & Recycling


Toxic nanoparticles and the food supply

Lin-PearI know, I know… you don’t need more bad news, what with bee colonies collapsing around us (, fracking destroying the watersheds of North America (, and another major conflict about to blow up in the Middle East after reports that the Syrian government recently used nerve gas on its own population. And I won’t even mention Miley Cyrus’s “twerking” performance at the 2013 VMA Awards. (If you don’t know what twerking is, you can read about it here:

As we’ve reported before (, nanoparticles and nanomaterials could present our society with the next “asbestos”-type health concern and crisis. While we try to not sound the shrill alarm on these pages too often, the subject of nanoparticles entering the environment and/or our bodies, and the long-term potential health effects of this, is underreported in the media, and isn’t getting enough attention from policymakers.

We hope we’re wrong about the true dangers posed by nanoparticles, but a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry isn’t reassuriong.

We reproduce below the main content of a news release about the study, which focused on nanoparticle residue on crops (in this case pears). We thought this worth sharing in hopes that, if you’re somehow connected to this issue, you’ll help push the agenda for further scientific/government review of the health risks. (The whole thing makes me shudder more than Miley Cyrus’s butt on YouTube.)

Here’s the release:

Over the last few years, the use of nanomaterials for water treatment, food packaging, pesticides, cosmetics and other industries has increased. For example, farmers have used silver nanoparticles as a pesticide because of their capability to suppress the growth of harmful organisms. However, a growing concern is that these particles could pose a potential health risk to humans and the environment. In a new study, researchers at the University of Missouri have developed a reliable method for detecting silver nanoparticles in fresh produce and other food products.

“More than 1,000 products on the market are nanotechnology-based products,” said Mengshi Lin, associate professor of food science in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “This is a concern because we do not know the toxicity of the nanoparticles. Our goal is to detect, identify and quantify these nanoparticles in food and food products and study their toxicity as soon as possible.”

Lin and his colleagues, including MU scientists Azlin Mustapha and Bongkosh Vardhanabhuti, studied the residue and penetration of silver nanoparticles on pear skin. First, the scientists immersed the pears in a silver nanoparticle solution similar to pesticide application. The pears were then washed and rinsed repeatedly. Results showed that four days after the treatment and rinsing, silver nanoparticles were still attached to the skin, and the smaller particles were able to penetrate the skin and reach the pear pulp.

“The penetration of silver nanoparticles is dangerous to consumers because they have the ability to relocate in the human body after digestion,” Lin said. “Therefore, smaller nanoparticles may be more harmful to consumers than larger counterparts.”

When ingested, nanoparticles pass into the blood and lymph system, circulate through the body and reach potentially sensitive sites such as the spleen, brain, liver and heart.

The growing trend to use other types of nanoparticles has revolutionized the food industry by enhancing flavors, improving supplement delivery, keeping food fresh longer and brightening the colors of food. However, researchers worry that the use of silver nanoparticles could harm the human body.

“This study provides a promising approach for detecting the contamination of silver nanoparticles in food crops or other agricultural products,” Lin said.

Members of Lin’s research team also included Zhong Zang, a food science graduate student. The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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1 Comment » for Toxic nanoparticles and the food supply
  1. Kathleen says:

    What ever happened to the precautionary approach to allowing all of this ‘stuff’ to be used within our food and water industries. Nowadays it seems to be up to our health and food government bodies to prove that they’re dangerous rather than to have these companies prove, via independent testing, that these items are safe (both singly and in combination with other things that they would typically come into contact with). We need to get control of our food production system again and not allow every tom, dick and harry permission to use these items unless they’ve proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are in fact safe for us and for the environment. CFIA and whomever else is responsible for the regulation of these substances! Do your job!

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