It’s been a difficult week for Kleinmann. After the launch of the manufacturer’s widely anticipated nanotechnology office products and household ranges, it was forced to pull a product from the shelves of retailers over a health scare in Germany.
The product in question is an aerosol that is designed to treat glass and ceramic by making surfaces water and dirt repellent, and is part of Kleinmann’s household range, Magic Nano. Unfortunately for Kleinmann, news of the health scare has received even more coverage than the launch of the products themselves. It has also reverberated around the OP industry this week.
Bernd Zimmermann, the company’s international sales manager, told OPI+: "We have been successfully involved with nano for two and a half years through the automotive industry, and now office products and household. The product in question was pulled as soon as we heard reports that five or six people had been found coughing when using it because we don’t want any health problems."
According to German medical alert tracking service
, which registers health complaints across German states, 78 people [by morning Thursday] have now suffered coughing fits or breathing difficulties after using Kleinmann products containing the mentioned aerosol liquid. In six cases, people suffering from a condition known as "pulmonary oedemas" had to be treated in hospital. Kleinmann told OPI+ that there was expected to be no long-term health damage.
An alert sent out by the Federal Institute of Risk Assessment in Germany says: "The relevant regional authorities and toxic control and treatment centres of the federal states have issued warnings about two products which were sold in Penny stores, according to the manufacturers. The distributors have launched a recall and advised against using the sprays. As the exact cause of the health disorders still has to be established, BfR advises all consumers who have already purchased nano-sealing sprays on a propellant base, not to use them in confined spaces."
The incident has also been recorded in the European rapid alert system for non-food products RAPEX.
The aerosol was the only product in the Magic Nano range that was not actually produced by the company, but by one of its suppliers, the name of which was not disclosed. "We do not make aerosol sprays, we just distribute them," said Zimmerman. "Unfortunately, this product was the only one of six that was not produced by us. But the problem is that it has our name on it."
He added: "The aerosol filler has been one of our suppliers for many years. They told us they had carried out many tests. But of course, the responsibility is ours."
Despite investigations that have been carried out since the problems started, Kleinmann and its supplier have been unable to locate the source of the problem. The aerosol has now been given to various institutes for testing, which is expected to take up to a couple of weeks. A meeting organised by the Ministry of Health is scheduled for this Friday in Berlin to discuss the source of the problem; another meeting is expected in ten days.
But more than likely, expects Kleinmann, it is not the nanotechnology that is at fault, but the anti-corrosion liquid inside the aerosol.
Neil McClelland, project manager for Nano Products UK and an all-round nano expert, told OPI+ that he also thinks the problem could be the result of any component, not necessarily the nanotechnology itself. He now fears an unfounded backlash against nano. "People are just starting to hear about nanotechnology and this issue will just help to bring the issue to the fore. But it would be disastrous for all concerned if the nature of nano is destroyed. Imagine if we had had a bad batch of penicillin at the beginning and wrote it off – that would have been a tragedy. The implications of nanotechnology in healthcare are massive. We have a moral obligation that this technology will do well.
"I am very upset for everyone involved that this has happened," McClelland continued. "Aerosol technology is very specific and it will have been tested extensively. Kleinmann manufactures according to the highest standards – it’s devastating for [the company] really."
But Zimmermann told OPI+ that he was confident the company’s reputation in office products would not be affected. He said: "85 per cent of our products are exported, while this problem was just in Germany. This will not affect our reputation at all in office products – we are too strong in this market and are looking to increase revenue by 20-30 per cent this year."
Datafresh, Kleinmann’s office product range launched at Paperworld in January, is going well so far. The range, 90 per cent of which will be private label, is already being sold in over 20 countries. "To date, the reaction of our private label customers has been very positive," said Zimmermann. "We have high hopes for nano in office products. Nano is the future and interest will be huge."