‘The new asbestos’ is a term that has been applied to all manner of emerging risks over recent years, many without justification, but nanotechnology may be shaping up to be deserving of the epithet.

Studies have questioned the safety of this developing technology, despite being heralded as the next miracle material. The parallels with asbestos are there to be seen: recent findings reveal that certain nanotubes could pose the same cancer risk as the infamous toxic mineral.

Human exposure to nanoparticles is increasing. The technology is routinely incorporated into the entire food processing chain, as well as products such as paint, sunscreen and vehicles. Within the next few years, the nanotechnology industry will employ as many as two million people worldwide, creating a potentially massive cohort of future claimants.

Thanks to the recent studies, this improved understanding should inform manufacturers and regulators about safer options and will hopefully contribute to a 'safe by design' approach to manufacture. Insurers must continue to monitor these developments in order to understand the risks from both an underwriting and claims perspective.