They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere!

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. I also couldn’t resist revisiting the topic of nanoparticles one last time. You remember nanoparticles? They’re the contaminant that poisons everything, at least if you believe two Italians, Antonietta Gatti and Stefano Montanari, who published a paper that purported to show that vaccines were hopelessly contaminated with heavy metal nanoparticles. (Hey, that would make a great name for a band.) Unfortunately for them, the study was a hopeless botch that lacked anything resembling proper controls, experimental design, replication, or statistical analysis. Montanari was not particularly happy at the criticism, which lead me to note that there was even more wrong with the paper than I had noticed before.

It also led me to discover the wild and wonderful world of nanoparticles. Actually, nanoparticles do have a lot of potential uses in medicine and are a fascinating topic in biology and medicine. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about quacks and how they view nanoparticles. Basically, quacks have latched on to nanoparticles the way they’ve latched on to quantum physics and epigenetics. They twist the science and, in this case, use it to “explain” all sorts of disease. They found “nanoparticles” not just in vaccines, but have been finding them in just about everything, as I discussed. So yesterday, I wondered: Just how far has nanoparticle quackery gone? Long time readers will realize that homeopaths have—hilariously—invoked nanoparticles as the mechanism by which homeopathy “works.” It’s become so common a trope among homeopaths that I just laugh at it now.

Here, we’re talking about a different form of nanoparticle quackery. Curious, I searched several prominent quack websites and found that nanoparticles are a popular topic. I also did Before I go into that, first, let’s define what nanoparticles are. Oddly enough, after two posts discussing cranks who “find” nanoparticles in everything, I never actually defined them. Basically, nanoparticles are particles that measure between 1 and 100 nanometers in size. They’re subclassified by diameter and have many applications in medicine, physics, optics, and electronics. Indeed, I’m on the thesis committee of a graduate student whose PhD project involves studying a nanoparticle as a drug delivery device in cancer chemotherapeutics.

Circling back to Gatti and Montanari’s paper, I can’t help but point to Sayer Ji’s take on it. You remember Sayer Ji, don’t you? I’ve discussed him on numerous occasions. He’s the proprietor of GreenMedInfo, a repository of quackery based on the misinterpretation of scientific papers. Not surprisingly, he was quite impressed with Gatti and Montanari’s execrable paper, to the point where he wrote an article called Metal Nanoparticle Contaminated Vaccines: Why Size Matters

A highly controversial new study on heavy metal contaminated vaccines is under fire, but its detractors fail to understand that, in nano-toxicology, size matters much more than commonly believed. Indeed, sometimes the smaller the size, the greater the toxicity.

Basically, Ji seems to think that nanoparticles invalidate Paracelsus’s saying that the dose makes the poison. In essence, he seems to be arguing for a homeopathy of nanoparticles in which the smaller (and less mass) they are, the more powerfully toxic they are:

The number of particles present in each vaccine sample tested ranged from 2 to 1,821. ORAC and his colleagues argue that these are biologically insignificant quantities. I quote: “What they really found is that the amount of inorganic contamination is so low as to be biologically irrelevant. In fact, what they found is that vaccines are incredibly pure products.” I believe this perspective ignores what we now know about the dangers of nanoparticles. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually because of the exceedingly small size of these particles that they possess especially potent and complex toxicities, as well as an increased proclivity towards biopersistence. Molecular weight, therefore (i.e. “dose”), does not make the poison. In other words, as the size of a metal or toxicant decreases (and therefore its mass), the harm produced may actually increase. Not to mention, that in the age of personalized medicine and increasingly complex syndromal illness presentations, it is impossible to generalize about the “irrelevance” of an exposure.

I’m tellin’ ya. It’s homeopathy all over again, where the smaller the nanoparticle, the stronger its toxic effect is.

Let’s dispose of the straw man here first. It’s not the molecular weight that makes the poison. Remember, I was arguing that the number of particles, not the mass of the particles, was inconsequential. Indeed, I was criticized for not taking into account the possible mass. In any case, nanoparticles in no way invalidate dose-response exposures. They might have different dose-response exposures, different distributions to different fluids and organs in the body, but the dose does still make the poison. Yes, nanoparticles can exhibit cytotoxicity and genotoxicity. Yes, size does influence toxicity. However, size is just one factor. There are many others, including chemical composition, shape, surface structure, surface charge, aggregation and solubility, and the presence or absence of functional groups of other chemicals.

Not surprisingly, The Food Babe is on the case, although surprisingly she hasn’t written nearly as much about nanoparticles as she has about other “chemicals”:

There’s a big controversy surrounding the results of a 2012 study that found titanium dioxide in Dannon yogurt. In May, Mother Jones reported that Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt contained the nanoparticle titanium dioxide, but have since retracted this from their article following Dannon’s claims that, “We don’t use any ingredients in Dannon plain yogurt that contain titanium dioxide. In the event we use an added color in our products we label it as an added ingredient”. I also contacted Dannon, and they confirmed this information. However, microscopic particles of titanium dioxide (nanoparticles) can be used as an artificial color to make white foods whiter and brighter. According to Friends of the Earth, there’s been “a tenfold increase in unregulated, unlabeled “nanofood” products on the American market since 2008… made by major companies including Kraft, General Mills, Hershey, Nestle, Mars, Unilever, Smucker’s and Albertsons. But due to a lack of labeling and disclosure, a far greater number of food products with undisclosed nanomaterials are likely currently on the market”. This concerns me because nanoparticles have been shown to carry risks to human health and the environment, and nanoparticles of titanium dioxide are specifically linked to gastrointestinal inflammation.

She’s gloated over Dunkin Donuts removing titanium dioxide from its powdered donuts.

Meanwhile, a couple of years ago Mother Jones published a truly overblown article by Tom Philpott entitled Is Big Dairy Putting Microscopic Pieces of Metal in Your Food? Amusingly, the article has an update that “The original version of this post claimed several dairy and dairy alternative products* contained nano-particles, based on the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN)’s inventory of nanotech products. PEN has since removed all of those products from its database, claiming that the 2012 journal article on which their conclusion was based had not conclusively shown that the products contain significant amounts of nano-particles.” Be that as it may, the article is laced with a considerable amount of misinformation and fear mongering about titanium dioxide. The US FDA allows food products to contain up to 1% titanium dioxide without the need to include it on the ingredient label, as long as the substance added conforms to high levels of purity. In any case, here’s an explanation as to how Mother Jones got it wrong.

None of that stops people like Sayer Ji from publishing articles like Why Is The Food Industry Poisoning Us With Trillions of Nanoparticles? Basically, Ji riffs off of an in vitro cell culture study (but I repeat myself) that purported to find that titanium dioxide nanoparticles are toxic to the cells that line the human stomach. Of course, it turns out that most of the titanium dioxide particles used in food are not true nanoparticles, but consist of larger particles.

Not surprisingly, über-quack Joe Mercola:

Millions of tons of titanium dioxide are produced globally each year. It adds whiteness and brightness to products and also helps them resist discoloration. Titanium dioxide also reflects ultraviolet (UV) light, which is why it’s often used as an ingredient in sunscreens.

Most titanium dioxide (close to 70 percent) is used as a pigment in paints, but it’s also added to cosmetics, toothpastes, pharmaceuticals, paper and food.

Titanium dioxide is generally considered to be a relatively inert, safe material, but an increasing number of products are now using titanium dioxide nanoparticles, and that may change everything.

Nanoparticles are ultramicroscopic in size, making them able to readily penetrate your skin and travel to underlying blood vessels and your bloodstream.

Evidence suggests that some nanoparticles may induce toxic effects in your brain and cause nerve damage, and some may also be carcinogenic.

Of course, the data he cites is based on in vitro and animal studies.

Basically, what has happened to nanoparticles is what happens to so many scientific questions relevant to health when quacks get their hands on them. Questions about whether nanoparticles have adverse health effects are sensationalized, and then nanoparticles morph into an all-purpose toxic bogeyman that causes all manner of chronic disease, found everywhere and more toxic the smaller they are. Then, of course, there come the diagnostic tests to detect them. In that, Gatti and Montenari clearly know their audience and are ahead of their time—in quackery. I’m only surprised nanoparticle fears aren’t a bigger part of American quackery and that the Food Babe hasn’t made them a central part of her fear mongering. Give it time, I guess. It wouldn’t surprise me if nanoparticles don’t soon become the new “toxins.” Alternatively, they’ll become the new Morgellon’s disease, with the added benefit that it requires expensive equipment, and not just a regular microscope, to detect nanoparticles. So much more profitable.


  1. #1 Yvette
    February 8, 2017

    What a fascinating example of moving the goalposts from these people where less equals more. I wonder if Saer JI applies the same standards to their products and treatments he pushes, like coffee enemas. Of note, look for his upcoming entry in the American Loons blog. I wonder if it will feature his arrest? It looks like a DUI- he of all people should know the dose makes the poison!

  2. #2 light
    February 8, 2017

    Oh shelbat! I couldn’t resist. What would Mork say?

  3. #3 Eric Lund
    February 8, 2017

    The only reason big particles are less dangerous than smaller particles is because the big particles can be filtered out. Anything that makes it through the filter and is capable of doing damage will do damage.

    If I were being generous to Sayer Ji, I might say he’s confusing particles taken internally with particles breathed in through the lungs. In the latter case, smaller particles can penetrate deeper into the lungs and more effectively obstruct the alveoli. That’s why there are regulations on particulate emissions, and why the concentration of particulates in the air is one of the quantities you see in air quality reports. But I’m not sure Ji understands this. The particles involved are also usually bigger than nanoparticles: I’ve seen PM2.5 and PM20, where the numbers refer to particle size in micrometers. The biggest nanoparticles are 0.1 μm.

  4. #4 stavros
    February 8, 2017

    The biggest nanoparticles are 0.1 μm.

    Do you mean .999 μm?

  5. #5 Zach
    February 8, 2017

    It appears the “smaller is worse” argument is trying to make a claim of concentration, like the difference between putting a shot of whiskey into a liter bottle of coke as opposed to a five-ounce glass worth of the same liquid. I never fully understood the basis for this ridiculous law of homeopathy, and now I do. It is even dumber now, because it implies that the toxicity of a substance is constant no matter the volume of it, as if again a single chloride atom was a condensed version of a cubic mile of the stuff.

  6. #6 Dorit Reiss
    February 8, 2017

    I think Yvette at #1 is onto something. What would it take to get Gatti and Montenari to turn their equipment on Sayer Ji’s products? I wonder what they’d find.

  7. #7 Eric Lund
    February 8, 2017

    stavros@4: According to the post, nanoparticles range in size from 1 to 100 nm. 1 μm is 1000 nm.

    Zach@5: No, it’s even worse than that. They are arguing that potency increases as volume decreases. That substances have a minimum size (one atom or molecule) is something they ignore.

    I can think of a way that a given mass of small nanoparticles might have a bigger effect than the same mass of larger nanoparticles of the same substance: if reaction rates scale with surface area, then the smaller particles will have a larger aggregate surface area and therefore react more quickly. That would work if you are going after a catalytic effect. I’m not aware of any non-catalytic reactions for which this would be true, however.

  8. #8 stavros
    February 8, 2017

    I saw that, but I disagree.

    What do the call particles between 100 nm and 1000 nm?

    Microparticles? when they are only fractions of one micron?

  9. #10 Orac
    February 8, 2017

    Um. Arguing if 100 nm in diameter is a microparticle or a nanoparticle seems to be missing the point of the post. For purposes of the quackery, I really don’t care about 1 nm either way; i.e, whether a nanoparticle is defined as <100nm or ≤100nm.

    Big picture, people! Big picture!

  10. #11 herr doktor bimler
    February 8, 2017

    Is Big Dairy Putting Microscopic Pieces of Metal in Your Food?

    Another manifestation of Betteridge’s Law.

  11. #12 stavros
    February 8, 2017

    I’m sorry, it just seems odd. Apparently the terms “microparticle” and “nanoparticle” both have formal IUPAC definitions but the ranges are counter-intuitive. Here they are:

    Picoparticle: Not formally defined
    Nanoparticle: 0 to 100 nanometers
    Microparticle: 100 nanometers to 100 micrometers
    Milliparticle: Not formally defined

    So there is no gap between microparticles and nanoparticles, but paradoxically, a 101 nanometer particle is defined by the IUPAC as a microparticle.

    Odd. Just one of those queer definitions.

    • #13 Orac
      February 8, 2017

      One more time: I. DON’T. CARE. Sorry, but I just don’t, and I view further discussion as pretty much irrelevant to the main point of the post.

  12. […] Nanoparticles: The new One True Cause of All Disease? […]

  13. #15 Eric Lund
    February 8, 2017

    There is a reason the term “picoparticle” is not defined: They don’t exist. A hydrogen atom has a diameter of the order of 0.1 nm[1]. Most atoms and molecules are larger than that; complex molecules can be orders of magnitude larger. The only particles that are significantly smaller are called “subatomic” particles for a reason. Protons and neutrons have diameters of the order of 1 fm, while electrons do not, as far as is known, have any intrinsic size (though their probability distributions do, but that’s getting into too much detail on a tangent).

    I’ll stipulate that the boundary between nanoparticle and microparticle is somewhat arbitrary, but it has to be put somewhere. And I agree with Orac that the debate about exactly where to draw that line is irrelevant to the main point of the post.

    [1]Depending when you took chemistry, you may have encountered the Ångström unit. 1 Å = 0.1 nm. The unit was thus defined for exactly this reason.

  14. #16 Mark Thorson
    February 8, 2017

    Better cut this pizza into six pieces. I don’t think I could eat eight pieces.

  15. #17 Narad
    February 8, 2017

    I think Yvette at #1 is onto something. What would it take to get Gatti and Montenari to turn their equipment on Sayer Ji’s products? I wonder what they’d find.

    This sounds an awful lot more like Fucklesworth than Prof. Reiss.

  16. #18 herr doktor bimler
    February 8, 2017

    Big picture, people! Big picture!

    Tiny little pictures are more effective. I read it somewhere.
    If 1 pcture = 1000 words, 1 word is a milipicture.

  17. #19 Denice Walter
    February 8, 2017

    What if other woo-meisters with their own pet hobbyhorses to ride latch on to nano particles as a means to fill in the gaps in their so-called theories?

    I can see it now….

    nano particles comprise the building blocks of Morgellons
    and Chem trails

    Nano particles accompany toxins in foods and vaccines to clog up the tubes in the brain or CV system causing illness

    Nano particles excite genetic material in GMO products so that they cross the gap into humans’ genome more easily

    Meat and milk products are totally made up of nano particles that’s why they’re so bad

    Nano particles feed Candida and other parasites

    high quality supplements act as a nano particle sponge so that they are absorbed before they do their dastardly deeds


    I could write all day but I won’t.

  18. #20 Orac
    February 8, 2017

    nano particles comprise the building blocks of Morgellons
    and Chem trails

    They’re way ahead of you. Gatti and Montanari already blame nanoparticles for Morgellons. 🙂

  19. #21 Chris Hickie
    February 8, 2017

    Even in deepest outer space it’s estimated there is 1 hydrogen atom per cubic centimeter, so even the best vacuum known (deep outer space) will have contamination.

  20. #22 Denice Walter
    February 8, 2017

    Be that as it may but I haven’t been hearing much about Morgellons lately.

    Maybe Mark Hyman can work them into his sludge/ rust/ etc.theory of illness.

  21. #23 Eric Lund
    February 8, 2017

    If 1 pcture = 1000 words, 1 word is a milipicture.

    An old academic joke proposes an SI unit of beauty, the millihelen, defined as the amount of beauty required to launch one ship.

  22. #24 herr doktor bimler
    February 8, 2017

    They’re way ahead of you. Gatti and Montanari already blame nanoparticles for Morgellons. 🙂

    You have fallen into error there, inconceivable though that seems. Gatti and Montanari conclude that Morgellons are psychogenic and of “self-induced nature”:
    Our results prove the self-introduction under the epidermis of environmental filaments” [i.e. dog hairs and carpet fluff from around the house].

    The hilarity comes in when they preen themselves about being pioneers in clinical research — “For the first time in the literature…”; “up to now, no investigative science-based
    evidence about the psychogenesis of the Morgellons
    has been provided”.
    It must have taken a great deal of selective inattention to avoid all the previous analyses of putative Morgellons fibres.

  23. #25 doug
    February 8, 2017

    There is a limit of pigment particle size below which the particles fail to perform. If colored pigments are ground too fine, which would certainly include anything below 100 nm, they no longer appear colored. Putting “nanoparticles” of titanium dioxide into food products would simply be wasting money, since it is rather expensive as a filler and would do nothing to enhance apparent whiteness. Nanoparticulate titanium dioxide, within a limited size range, is useful in sunblocks because it doesn’t reflect visible light but does reflect ultraviolet, and sensible people object to ultraviolation. A couple of papers I found say that there is no evidence of titanium dioxide penetrating beyond the stratum corneum, though one suggested evaluation needs to be made on skin that is already sunburned.

    So are nanoparticles somehow strung together to form fibres for Morgellons Streptonanogunk spp.? – though that still wouldn’t make them marcoscopic – maybe Streptostaphylonanogunk spp.. Creationists may object on the grounds of it being too much like having a tornado assemble an airplane from the heaps in a junkyard.

  24. #26 Militant Agnostic
    20 km east of the billboard
    February 8, 2017

    HDB @25

    Yes, they may have figured out Morgellons, but what is their position on chemtrails?

  25. #27 Dangerous Bacon
    February 8, 2017

    Well, we already know that nanoparticles cause Morgellons.

    “The FDA approved nano-virile protein bacteria eaters that work on deli meats and other ready-to-eat foods in August, 2006. Food manufacturers started spraying this new nantechnology viruses on meats and vegetables in August 2006.”

  26. #28 Leigh Jackson
    February 8, 2017

    “… as the size of a metal or toxicant decreases (and therefore its mass), the harm produced may actually increase.”

    Oh dear.

    Nanoparticles have significantly greater surface to volume ratios than larger molecules. Which would facilitate chemical diffusion. Which could be helpful or harmful. Which must be determined on a case-by-case basis. There is no reason to believe that nanoparticles are inherently safe or inherently toxic.

    The evidence is that TiO2 is safe.

  27. #29 Eric Lund
    February 8, 2017

    So are nanoparticles somehow strung together to form fibres for Morgellons Streptonanogunk spp.? – though that still wouldn’t make them marcoscopic

    Several years ago I did a plant tour at a company in my state which does exactly this with carbon nanotubes–their end product is (possibly was; this was a startup and I’m not sure they still exist) textiles, and at the time they had a contract with the Department of Defense, which has an obvious interest in the bullet-stopping capabilities of the product, which is lighter than a comparably effective thickness of Kevlar.

    So it’s not impossible to do what you are suggesting. But it probably requires conditions that do not occur in nature (at least on planet Earth). I think the more relevant objections is that Morgellons has not been shown (outside of the woo-sphere) to actually exist.

  28. #30 sadmar
    February 8, 2017

    Lest anyone think the idea of toxic nanoparticles stands in contradiction to homeopathy’s claim of curative nanoparticles – I did think this on first read here. But then I realized, no, what seoparates the nano-toxins from the nano-cures is the transformation of the water in the solution via succusion. No shaking –> sickness and death. EXPERT shaking – the gift of health. That ‘homepathic’ OTC stuff, that’s just a shake-down. Probably poison you. That’s why your friendly neighborhood homeo gets the big bucks.

  29. #31 stavros
    February 8, 2017

    Whoa! Calm down. You were right. Your definition complies with the IUPAC.

    But now everyone here knows a trivial little fact.

  30. #32 Anonymous Coward
    February 8, 2017

    The worst kind of nanoparticle is the sort that causes continuous damage to cells and is persistent in the body, like, say, maybe plutonium dust. But even if they found plutonium nanoparticles as much as these other heavy metal contaminants they claim to have found, I doubt even that would be a truly serious source of concern. I likely get more radiation damage from the radioactive potassium present in the bananas I eat every morning.

  31. #33 rs
    February 8, 2017

    “An old academic joke proposes an SI unit of beauty, the millihelen, defined as the amount of beauty required to launch one ship.”

    Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder just imagine the possibilities of recruiting some especially optimistic (or near sighted) beholders. This is a very promising development for carbon free marine transportation.

  32. #34 herr doktor bimler
    February 9, 2017

    Yes, they may have figured out Morgellons, but what is their position on chemtrails?
    See here:
    Montanari agrees that chemtrails Are A Thing (he can see them himself!) but refuses to speculate about their composition, for he is An Scientist.

    Le scie chimiche le vedo anch’io. Anch’io mi sono preoccupato: non sono aerei normali ma io di mestiere faccio lo scienziato, piaccia o no la cosa, quindi io sono costretto a basarmi sui fatti.

  33. #35 gaist
    February 9, 2017

    an SI unit of beauty, the millihelen, defined as the amount of beauty required to launch one ship.

    Bah! An elementary mistake, using metric scales with Troy units.:)

  34. #36 fusilier
    February 9, 2017

    gaist @#35:

    VERY well done, madame or sir, as the case may be.

    James 2:24

  35. #37 SteveP
    February 9, 2017

    OK the article is about nanoparticle woo, I get it. But can you explain to me why on Earth I would ever willingly put white paint pigment in my food? “Food-grade TiO2 impairs intestinal and systemic immune homeostasis, initiates preneoplastic lesions and promotes aberrant crypt development in the rat colon.”

    Making food more appealing with paint pigment…. really? I already eat too much, I don’t need any incentive to eat more food.

    To me, this is an example of the market driving itself to stupid outcomes, and if the food coloring industry gets attacked by woo merchants, …. can I watch? . Please? Maybe sell tickets?

  36. #38 viggen
    February 9, 2017

    I’m tellin’ ya. It’s homeopathy all over again, where the smaller the nanoparticle, the stronger its toxic effect is.

    Nicely written, Orac. I strongly agree: small size does not exempt a poison from dose. It can change the behavior of the poison, but not remove dose dependence.

    The great problem with nanoparticle woo is that there are small objects of submicron scale no matter where you look in our world. Showing the existence of such particles is easy; ascribing biological effects to this existence is not so easy. That they are present under a microscope may not mean anything at all.

    @SteveP: one chemical that I study is a food coloring called often Yellow dye #6 (or Sunset Yellow FCF). It was, at least until recently, one of the colorings that makes Taco Bell nacho sauce orange. This type of molecule can self-assemble into linear aggregates that are maybe tens of nanometers long which are able to form liquid crystals when dissolved in water at high enough concentration. The system is fascinating and pretty much harmless –and really quite pretty: Google “Sunset Yellow liquid crystal” to see what I mean. People are panickedly removing it from everything because it’s man made. As if nature doesn’t make molecules with these kinds of behaviors too: the sunset yellow liquid crystal is similar in architecture to a liquid crystal made by DNA. I should probably be trying to scare people with the fact that Yellow Dye #5, from Mountain Dew, also can make liquid crystals… if I point out enough examples, maybe the kooks will stop eating altogether and stop annoying the rest of us.

    Dear god, there are molecules that form nanoparticles in my food!

  37. #39 vaccine papers
    February 9, 2017

    A review paper ( on nanoparticle toxicity states:

    “Particle size and surface area are crucial material characteristics from a toxicological point of view, as interactions between nanomaterials and biological organisms typically take place at the surface of the NP. As the particles’ size decreases, the surface area exponentially increases and a greater proportion of the particles’ atoms or molecules will be displayed on the surface rather than within the bulk of the material. Thus, the nanomaterial surface becomes more reactive toward itself or surrounding biological components with decreasing size, and the potential catalytic surface for chemical reactions increases.”
    “The nature of the interface between nanomaterials and biological systems affects the in vivo biocompatibility and toxicity of NPs.”
    “Particle shapes and aspect ratios are two additional key factors that determine the toxicity of NPs. Nanomaterials can have very different shapes including fibers, spheres, tubes, rings, and planes.”
    “Surface charge also plays a role in toxicity, as it influences the adsorption of ions and biomolecules that may change organism or cellular responses toward particles.”
    NPs = nanoparticles

  38. #40 vaccine papers
    February 9, 2017

    Something is wrong with that link. Here is a working link:

  39. #41 Bob
    February 9, 2017

    I really want to see a public debate between these guys and the pro-nanoparticle homeopaths.

  40. #42 Bob G
    Los Angeles
    February 9, 2017

    The air quality community has been interested in particles emitted by diesel trucks for more than a decade. Since the larger particles are a few microns across (and referred to as PM2.5 and PM10 for example), the much smaller particles were referred to as ultrafine particles. They are the particles that range up to 100 nm in diameter. Measurements along a busy freeway populated by a large number of diesel trucks showed that ultrafine particles were present at about one-third million per cubic centimeter. If you happen to be following directly behind a truck, you are getting a dose of ultrafine particles. The air quality people also measure things like elemental carbon, which is their term for the particles that are mainly carbon, and were found to be present in quantities of several micrograms per cubic meter. The UF particles also include structures that are more complex chemically than the elemental carbon particles, containing more complex organic oxidation products. The UF particles tend to aggregate fairly quickly, resulting in a substantial fall off in numbers within a few hundred yards of the freeway. The UF particles have been associated with increased emergency room visits for heart problems, among other things. As noted by another commenter, ultrafine particles can pass the filtration mechanisms in the airways and penetrate more deeply. Some have been seen inside of cells.

    Needless to say, there is all the difference in the world between inhaling diesel exhaust for several hours a day vs. getting a tetanus shot. I mention this story because it was a major issue in the communities surrounding the port of Los Angeles a few years ago (ships put out a lot of diesel exhaust), and resulted in some serious research being done by the folks up at USC.

    More briefly, there is a legitimate subject involving nanoparticle pollution in the air, not to be confused with the quackery described in this post.

    By the way, it is possible to reduce nanoparticle pollution from trucks using filtration methods, and the Swiss have done a lot to clean up their fleets.

  41. #43 SteveP
    February 9, 2017

    I agree with you that nanoparticle hysteria, along with Morgellon’s hysteria, are bad things. But I strongly resist the tactic of trying to win over uneducated consumers by belittling them, and I criticise we of the science tribe for our failure to have compassion for others. .

    The woo merchants are eating our lunch again. Why? Well, the woo merchants, first of all, are able to connect with their audience, their market. Why? Because they are able to convince their “target” audience that they are on their side. What do we science jerks do? We belittle them. We tell them we are smarter than they are. We hope that they stop eating and die. How well is that working, folks? Are you winning more and more people over to the side of science every day? No? Gee, I wonder why.

  42. #44 doug
    February 9, 2017

    … pro-nanoparticle homeopaths.

    As far as I can tell, a homeopathic “nanoparticle” would have to be smaller than a single molecule, or the ions thereof, of the starting substance, yet somehow maintain the physiological properties of the substance. I’m quite baffled as to how that is supposed to come about.

  43. #45 herr doktor bimler
    February 9, 2017

    What do we science jerks do? We belittle them. We tell them we are smarter than they are. We hope that they stop eating and die. How well is that working, folks?

    If only there were some way that SteveP could start up his own “blog” where he could address the daily influx of stupidity in a more appropriate tone. Alas, the technology is not available.

  44. #46 Orac
    February 9, 2017


    If you think I’m doing it so very wrong, you are perfectly welcome, as herr doktor bimler points out, to start your own blog and show us exactly how it’s done. In fact, please do. I challenge you. Show me how to do it better.

    I suspect that you’ll find that it’s very easy to snipe from the sidelines but not so easy to actually do it.

  45. #47 Gilbert
    February 9, 2017

    Morgellon’s looks pretty nasty. What the actual fuck is coming out of that leaf bug??

  46. #48 Bob
    February 9, 2017

    Also, I don’t understand why you guys are having trouble with understanding the “smaller is worse” argument.

    Let me put it simply. The average human cannot swallow an ordinary bowling ball. Shrink it though, eventually it’s small enough to eat. Eventually it’s small enough to slip through our GI lining and enter our circulation, causing untold damage to our organs, like so many organic bowling pins.

    Products that exist naturally, in nature, contain no bowling balls large or small, unlike vaccines.

  47. #49 Anonymous Coward
    February 9, 2017


    Certainly smaller can be worse, but the whole point that Orac and others is trying to make is that ancient Paracelsian maxim: The dose makes the poison. To use your bowling ball analogy, a nanometre-sized bowling ball would eventually be destroyed by the body’s defences. But many billions of them could potentially cause more damage before the body’s defences can take care of it. The same is true of even something as toxic as methylmercury. A few molecules of that aren’t going to kill you. You’ll live to a ripe old age before that much causes harm. Billions upon billions of molecules in the body though are a major cause of concern.

    It’s not like these are the self-replicating nanobots of science fiction (but then again maybe these aren’t so science fiction: some real-world examples of “self-replicating nanobots” are called “viruses” and “bacteria”) that a very few could potentially exponentially replicate itself into harmful quantities.

  48. #50 Michael J. Dochniak
    February 9, 2017

    @Bob (~#47),

    It is well known that the size of an entity can convey a different message.

    For example, the size of the letters in a word can convey a different message.

    The word “Bob” vs. “BOB” is a classic example.

    Phonetically the words are identical but the size of the letters are dissimilar causing confusion and possibly an emotional misinterpretation.

    Therefore, you are correct in your bowling ball analogy in that size can affect processing.

  49. #51 herr doktor bimler
    February 9, 2017

    Products that exist naturally, in nature, contain no bowling balls large or small, unlike vaccines.

    Oh for those prelapsarian days before human technology invented bush-fires, and meteor dust, and volcanic eruptions, and desert dust-storms, and sea-spray evaporation, and other sources of nanoparticles.

  50. #52 doug
    February 9, 2017

    Nanoparticles: The new One True Cause of All Disease?

    I just got a note shoved under my door. The line above is typed at the top of the sheet. Halfway down the page is a big scrawled “No!” The signature looks kind of ghostly (if that makes any sense; I don’t know how else to describe it). I think the first name is Hilda, but the second character looks kind of like a “u” and the last name is Clunk?? Right at the bottom of the page is a little cartoon of some vermiform thing that looks like it’s being hit by a lightning bolt. The paper smells kind of musty. It’s all really weird.

  51. #53 DuWayne
    February 10, 2017

    Did it have a religious new-age graphic design suggestive of the Watchtower pamphlet that Jehova’s Witnesses kill trees to annoy people with?

  52. #54 Narad
    February 10, 2017

    I criticise we of the science tribe for our failure to have compassion for others.


  53. #55 Julian Frost
    Gauteng North
    February 10, 2017

    Go away Travis (Bardiac).

  54. #56 Johnny
    February 10, 2017

    And Bardiac is Travis J Schwochert of 239 S Church St, Endeavor, WI 53930

    Just so you know

  55. #57 Militant Agnostic
    February 10, 2017


    Montanari agrees that chemtrails Are A Thing (he can see them himself!) but refuses to speculate about their composition, for he is An Scientist.

    Translation – He has not found a way to monetize them. Someone should send him a sample of jet fuel.

  56. #58 DuWayne
    February 10, 2017

    LOL! Did you see the add in the adspace on this website?

    The Haver CPA: particle analyzer

    I don’t want an instrument called “Haver”. I can imagine the digital readout constantly fluctuating (+-+-+-+).

    Might as well call it The Equivocator T200.

  57. #59 DuWayne
    February 10, 2017

    The Contraindicator 3C42: mass spectrometer.

  58. #60 herr doktor bimler
    February 10, 2017

    In another timely development, Hyderabad’s finest illiterate wazzocks at “Scientific Federation” are currently spamming all and sundry with invitations to their latest round of mockademic scamferences, including Nanotechnology 2017:

    On behalf of Organizing Committee, we would like to solicit your gracious presence as a speaker at the upcoming 3rd Global Nanotechnology Congress and Expo which is going to be held during August 21-23, 2017 in Dallas, USA.

    To have glance at conference, PS:

    Scientific Sessions Includes
    Nanomaterials Emerging areas of materials science

    We await a positive acknowledgement from you. I would be glad to answer your queries in this regard.
    Best regards,
    Reddy Sekhar