Singapore’s haze – the black sheep of the nanoparticle family

Date: 04 September 2013

Modern technology allows the creation of very small structures and particles sized only a few nanometers. These materials are interesting for technical and medical purposes. The change in size leads to new chemical and physical properties. It also allows more efficient use of precious raw materials such as gold and silver. However, nanomaterials need to be designed so that we can profit from their new properties without putting humans or the environment at elevated risk. Engineers must avoid creating very small particles with aggressive surface groups that become easily airborne and that can lead to human exposure. A great deal of effort is now being made internationally to develop strategies that allow us to assess if a new material is safe for humans and the environment and to enable manufacture of  products "which are safe by design

Going, going, gone - Marina Bay Sands disappears in the Singapore haze

The haze which Singapore experienced in summer this year also consists of nanoparticles, and in this case those that have exactly the least desirable properties. During the combustion of organic matter, black carbon nanoparticles are formed. These particles are very small and get transported over long distances. The combustion of the biomass happens with insufficient oxygen supply, creates particles with aggressive surface functional groups. These processes also form carcinogenic substances that are then transported on the surface of the nanoparticles. These nanoparticles are able to penetrate deeply into the lungs where they deposit their toxic load and ignite inflammatory responses. Some of the particles are even so small that they may transfer into the blood and get transported into the rest of the body. The possible health consequences are asthma, heart infarctions, stroke and even cancer.   In this sense, Singapore's haze is the black sheep of the nanoparticle family. Minimising unnecessary exposure to haze nanoparticles as well to those which are deliberately manufactured is the most effective solution to prevent these undesirable health effects.

We have developed a short note to assist employers to comply with the MOM recommendations by providing further information about good practice.

You can download the guidance document  here

Michael Riediker, SAFENANO Director of Operations, IOM Singapore

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257 Workers suffered major injuries between January and June 2013 in Singapore.