Nano's Safety Checkup
Technology Review (MIT)
Vol. 107, Num. 1
The growth of the nanotechnology industry could be retarded by "concerns that tiny man-made particles could cause threats to human health or the environment." (22) The potentially invasive properties of nanoparticles could trigger new regulations and will certainly stimulate new studies. "One key question is what happens to nanoparticles in the environment?"(23) Corporate, academic and government researchers are each pursuing lines of inquiry.
Rice University researchers (Vicki Colvin) are examining how far carbon molecules (buckyballs), which are extremely stable, may travel through water and air. In early, somewhat crude experiments Dupont researchers (David Warheit) have found that buckyballs can cause lesions in lungs. The EPA is now selecting new studies to fund, and both the EPA and the USDA are examining current laws, including the Toxic Substance Control Act to determine their fitness for regulating particles at the nano-scale. European agencies are likewise concerned; the Royal Engineering Society and Royal Academy of England are completing a preliminary study. Safety data is key to opening up the nanomaterials and nanomanufacturing industry. The stakes are high: common items such as tennis balls and sunscreen already contain nanoparticles, and the global industry is predicted to top 1 trillion dollars in the near-term future.