Iron is the highest occurring metal found in the earth crust. Iron ore is the starting material to produce iron oxides which are used in various applications ranging from the production of steel to data storage devices. Currently applications of iron oxide nanoparticles in medical uses, such as contrast agents or tumour therapeutic agents, are being tested.
How can I come into contact with this material?
There is little chance for the user to come into contact with iron and iron oxide nanoparticles used in electronic devices and in data storage media. In the medical field, however, iron oxide nanoparticles are injected directly into the human body. Therefore it is extremely important to ensure that the used concentrations of the iron oxide preparations are non-toxic.
Is there any risk from this material to humans and the environment?
The administered amounts of iron and iron oxide used in medical applications are very small compared to the natural iron supplies within the body and are considered non-toxic. Naturally occurring iron oxides are ubiquitously found in the environment making it difficult to distinguish between the naturally occurring forms and synthetically produced iron oxide nanoparticles. Environmental engineers are using this material for environmental remediation purposes such as the removal of toxic compounds from ground water where the nanoparticles usually remain after the chemicals have been eliminated. In general iron and iron oxide nanoparticles are considered to be non-toxic to the environment and its inhabitants, only exceptionally high concentrations can be problematic. Nevertheless it is essential to differentiate between the effects of metallic iron and the respective iron oxides as the former cannot be taken up by organisms. Iron oxides however are important trace elements which can cause adverse effects in both humans and wildlife when administered in excessive amounts.
In the day-to-day life the human body is only exposed to very small amounts of iron nanoparticles or iron oxide nanoparticles which are considered generally to be non-toxic. Iron and iron oxide are naturally occurring materials in the environment.
By the way…
- Iron oxide is also used as colour pigment to create the typical rust red colour. It is a long-lasting dye that can been found in many ancient paintings.
- Pigeons and bacteria are known to store iron oxide particles within their bodies to enable orientation with regard to the earth’s magnetic field.