Warnings of potential danger with nanotechnology

Anthony Seaton, one of Britain’s leading environmental health experts, says there may be a looming danger from tiny particles relased from products developed with nanotechnology. Due to the small size of the nano particles, these particles can be breathed into the deepest reaches of our lungs, where they can migrate into our bloodstream and cause serious health problems including respiratory, cardiac and immune system damage.
This would be similar to the health effects experienced after exposure to asbestos, a substance already clearly linked with cancer, and also the high rate of heart disease and respiratory problems in dense pollution areas. Professor Seaton has said that health and safety testing for this type of nanotechnology simply hasn’t been done, and the long term health effects are not known. The Center for Disease Control in the USA has conducted animal studies on exposure to nanoparticles, and states that:

“Experimental studies in rats have shown that at equivalent mass doses, tested insoluble ultrafine particles are more potent than larger particles of similar composition in causing pulmonary inflammation, tissue damage, and lung tumors.”

“Engineered nanoparticles are likely to have health effects similar to well-characterized ultrafine particles with similar physical and chemical characteristics.”

Since here are already over 200 products on the market using nanotechnology in some form, with hundreds more expected in the next year, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to avoid exposure to these particles in the coming years. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that nanotechnology is too dangerous to be used. The CDC also reported: Through engineering, nanomaterials can be generated with specific properties. For example, a recent study has shown the cytotoxicity of water-soluble fullerenes can be reduced by several orders of magnitude by modifying the structure of the fullerene molecules (e.g., by hydroxylation) [Sayes et al. 2004]. These structural modifications were shown to reduce the cytotoxicity by reducing the generation of oxygen radicals – which is the probable mechanism by which the cell membrane damage and cell death occurred in laboratory animals.”

With proper health and safety testing, combined with thorough nanoengineering, safe nanotechnology can be realized. In addition to this, active nano machines could also be employed to clean older, dangerous nanoparticles from our bodies. Medical nanotechnology is a field that will see much growth in the coming decades performing dutues such as cleaning toxins from our bodies, repairing cellular damage, and monitoring our bodies for signs of cancer and other diseases.

PhysOrg, via Engadget

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Steve holds a degree in Environmental Engineering Technology from Humber College in Toronto, is a LEED Accredited Professional and a Certified Sustainable Building Advisor. He currently lives in Victoria BC and works as a green building consultant specializing in residential projects.


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