Debate over safety of nano in sunscreens still simmers as summer winds down

by Andrew Schneider on August 28, 2009

The August recess has emptied Washington of most of the elected grownups, but a sparring match among top public health activists over a study on nanomaterial in sunscreens lingers on.

You’ve got to love it when three white-hat-wearing senior scientists skirmish over a study written by three other presumed good guys.

Last week, I wrote about the study released in Washington during the annual “we’ll-publish-anything-because there’s-no-real-news doldrums.”

The study was another peek at what is happening in the world of nano-safety which, in my mind, is a much-ignored topic.

The report  – “Manufactured Nanomaterial and Sunscreens: Top Reasons for Precaution” – was compiled by Friends of the Earth, Consumers Union and the International Center for Technology Assessment.

Here is a link to my earlier post, which has a link to the actual study. (How many degrees of separation is that?)

The authors weren’t putting it up for a Nobel and they  admitted that much more work was needed on the health implications of nanomaterial.

But Richard Denison, a senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, found fault with the study and blogged about it.

He said the researchers “cite the small size of nanomaterials as the driving concern, failing to recognize that the organic molecules used in other sunscreens are typically far smaller – not to mention specifically designed to be absorbed into the skin.”

Jennifer Sass, senior scientist with the Natural  Resources Defense Council who has done extensive research on nano and safety, countered on Denison’s blog.

“Nanomaterials do not improve the efficacy of sunscreens, so why have them? Let consumers make informed choices by labeling sunscreens and other products where the ingredients are ‘nano’ scale,” she explained.

Also joining the cyber debate was Andrew Maynard, the chief science adviser at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

Maynard, an international lecturer who has skillfully used the Twinkie to teach the world about nano, came down firmly in the middle.

“While there are questions that remain unanswered over the safe use of nanomaterials in sunscreens, the overwhelming balance of current information is in their favor. Some degree of judgment is needed here, precisely because the science is not conclusive,” Maynard commented.

My only question is: Why are three brilliant scientists staying in Washington in August?

To read more of the comments on this topic, here is a link to Denison’s blog.

Denison

Denison

photo-jsassMaynard

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