Giving new meaning to the phrase “Insuring the safety of nanomaterials”

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

The insurance industry is out in front on nanotechnology yet again.  As the giant reinsurer Swiss Re did way back in May 2004 with its groundbreaking report Nanotechnology: Small matter, many unknowns, it is once again the insurance industry sounding an early alarm about nanomaterials.  In this case, it’s the Continental Western Insurance Group (CWG), which has just announced that it will exclude coverage for “the, as of yet, unknown and unknowable risks created by the products and processes that involve nanotubes.”

Starting November 15, CWG says it will attach a Nanotubes and Nanotechnology Exclusion to all of the policies it issues for business auto, business owners, garage, motor carrier, commercial general liability and commercial liability umbrella coverage.

The Group issues policies through four individual companies:  Continental Western Insurance Company, Union Insurance Company, Firemen’s Insurance Company of Washington D.C. and Acadia Insurance Company.

Why the company is acting now

CWG’s statement notes: “Reports have raised concerns regarding health risks from workers that may be inhaling carbon nanotubes during the manufacture of certain products. The carbon nanotubes resemble asbestos fibers in appearance, raising the concern that they may cause illness similar to that linked to asbestos. Further analysis is needed to determine long term affects.”

The Group goes on to say “it would not be prudent for us to knowingly provide coverage for risks that are, as of yet, unknown and unquantifiable. We are all too aware of what happened to companies involved with asbestos-related exposures in the past, and see this as a very similar issue.”

This is one more striking illustration of how the lack of good data on nanomaterials’ risk has big business implications.

If this is the start of a trend, maybe our and others’ efforts to get more federal funding devoted to nanomaterial safety research will get an unexpected boost.

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