Skip to content Skip to navigation

Nanomaterial Health Effects

Written by: 
Aimee O'Sullivan, MPH
It is uncertain if engineered nanomaterials may be toxic to cells and organisms, due to their extremely small nature (Less than 100 nanometers); therefore, it is necessary to develop and implement relevant regulations for public health policy.

Reviewed by Aimee O'Sullivan, MPH, ENVIRON International Corporation.


The unique nature of nanoscale materials, combined with a lack of comprehensive research, creates uncertainty regarding the potential health effects of nanomaterials. The same properties of nanomaterials that may produce novel applications could also make them toxic to cells and organisms. Epidemiological studies have associated exposures to ultrafine particles with human health conditions pertinent to lung and heart disease.


To determine if nano-sized materials are toxic to cells and organisms, via review of existing toxicological studies on engineered nanomaterials.


Studies were reviewed on several classes of nanomaterials – titanium dioxide, fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, and quantum dots. 


The oxidizing properties of titanium dioxide can cause reactions with free radicals.  This may eventually lead to cytotoxicity.  In general, pure forms of fullerenes are more toxic than less pure forms of fullerenes.  Various animal studies indicate that nanotubes produce various toxic effects in cells, ranging from inflammation to loss of cell viability. Toxicity studies relevant to quantum dots have resulted in inconsistent findings.


Studies suggest both short-term and long-term concerns for nanomaterials. The rapid rate by which nanotechnology is emerging demands more research on human health effects. The majority of evidence suggests that exposures to nanomaterials can cause adverse public health effects.  In the meantime, precautions should be taken with the increasing production of nanomaterials.