Pulmonary inflammation

According to a research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) by a Swiss-French team of scientists, “inhalation of nano-TiO2 provokes lung inflammation”. The authors of the study add that “the current use of nano-TiO2 may present a health hazard due to its capacity to induce IL-1R signaling, a situation reminiscent of inflammation provoked by asbestos exposure.

Actually, the researchers from the University of Lausanne’s Department of Biochemistry in Switzerland, and the University of Orléans’ Laboratory of Molecular Immunology and Embryology, in France, investigated the inflammatory capacity of TiO2 nanoparticles by testing them on human cells and in lab experiments using mice. They found that nano-TiO2 can cause pulmonary inflammation through biological mechanisms very similar to asbestos and silicone, thus releasing molecules capable of attacking DNA, proteins and cell membranes.

Jürg Tschopp, Professor of biochemistry at the University of...

Jürg Tschopp, Professor of biochemistry at the University of Lausanne

Jürg Tschopp, the lead researcher and professor of biochemistry at the University of Lausanne, told Swiss media that asbestos and nano-TiO2 particles act in a very similar way and can get accumulated in lungs. According to Professor Tschopp more caution should be required in order to limit the absorption of these particles at work and in daily life.

Widely employed substance

Titanium dioxide is widely employed as a pigment to provide whiteness and opacity to products such as paints, coatings, plastics, papers, inks, foods, medicines (i.e. pills and tablets) as well as most toothpastes. Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide are increasingly used in various fields, including paints, biomedicine, electronics and sunscreens.

Scientific literature reports increased incidence of respiratory diseases in people exposed to titanium dioxide and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified titanium dioxide dust as possibly carcinogenic to humans (IARC Group 2B) when inhaled.

Titanium dioxide in its nano form gets more easily absorbed into the skin and this has regularly raised health concerns.

The new Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on cosmetic products, which will come into full force on July 13, 2013, provides that cosmetic products containing nanoparticules will have to be notified to the Commission six months prior being placed on the market and that nanomaterials in the formula will have to be mentioned in the list of ingredients with the concerned substance followed by the word “nano” in brackets (e.g.: Titanium dioxyde [nano]).