Five challenges for nano-safety

This week’s Nature has a Commentary piece (editor’s summary here, subscription required for full article) from the great and good of nanoparticle toxicology, outlining what they believe needs to be done, in terms of research, to ensure that nanotechnology is developed safely. As they say, “fears over the possible dangers of some nanotechnologies may be exaggerated, but they are not necessarily unfounded,” and without targeted and strategic risk research public confidence could be lost and innovation held up through fear of litigation.

Their list of challenges is intended to form a framework for research over the next fifteen years; the wishlist is as follows:

  • Develop instruments to assess exposure to engineered nanomaterials in air and water, within the next 3–10 years.
  • Develop and validate methods to evaluate the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials, within the next 5–15 years.
  • Develop models for predicting the potential impact of engineered nanomaterials on the environment and human health, within the next 10 years.
  • Develop robust systems for evaluating the health and environmental impact of engineered nanomaterials over their entire life, within the next 5 years.
  • Develop strategic programmes that enable relevant risk-focused research, within the next 12 months.
  • Some might think it slightly odd that what amounts to a research proposal is being published in Nature. They give a positive view for stressing this program now. “Nanotechnology comes at an opportune time in the history of risk research. We have cautionary examples from genetically modified organisms and asbestos industries that motivate a real interest, from all stakeholders, to prevent, manage and reduce risk proactively.” Some indication of the potential downside of failing to be seen to move on this is seen in the recent results of a citizen’s jury on nanotechnology in Germany, reported today here (my thanks to Niels Boeing for bringing this to my attention). These findings seem notably more sceptical than the findings of similar processes in the UK.

    3 thoughts on “Five challenges for nano-safety”

    1. Via Instapundit I found this article on responses to concerns over nano-safety in the U.S.:

      Seems the EPA is responding to concerns over Samsung’s new washing machine that will use silver ions for anti-bacterial effect. They are worried that silver nanoparticles will accumulate in waste water and kill beneficial bacteria used for sewage treatment. The EPA argues that the silver particles are a pesticide and come under stringent regulations.

      Ironically, the response by some companies is to remove mention of antibacterial properties, as under the law, if you don’t claim to kill pests, you’re not a pesticide. Cosmetic companies are rushing to take the “nano” out of their product claims as well.

      Could be that “nano” will soon become as popular as “nuclear” in the public eye. Some new name will have to be thought up. Maybe that will at least end the current confusion where everyone is trying to jump on the “nano” funding bandwagon.

    2. Hal, as is so often the case the Economist has a very sensible take on the situation, here. We should remember that stuff that is toxic normally doesn’t generally get any less toxic on the nanoscale! One wouldn’t be very keen on the mass release of cadmium selenide nanoparticles, for example, not because they are nanoparticles, but because they are cadmium selenide.

    3. A third set of edible nanoparticles that when ingested, causes constipation, would solve the above EPA-Samsung standoff.

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