Many products in current use have risks that must be managed. Many products we use every day have risks, and their dangers are managed systematically, not infrequently by force of government regulation. Gasoline, for example, is a known carcinogen, so regulations govern its handling and the warnings we are consistently given about it. As recent research has shown, carbon nanotubes also have risks that must be managed (link). Science doesn’t move ahead smoothly, however, and one study shows that toxicity of certain carbon nanomaterials could appear to be proven by one test, while other tests would show no toxicity (link).
Scientists worldwide are taking action to protect us from nanomaterial toxicity. Not only have a number of studies been taking place, but an Institute of Life Sciences article (link) reported in 2005 that a Nanomaterial Toxicity Screening Working Group had been formed. That group met in February of 2005 and published a paper outlining a toxicity screening strategy for nanomaterials (link) in October of that year.
Nanotechnology’s high profile may make it less likely to have negative consequences for the public. It’s clear that, while new technologies often involve risks, the risks of nanotechnology are not being ignored. While mistakes have been made in the development of other technologies, and safety practices and regulations were applied too late to prevent problems, it is possible that nanotechnology will be one of the most closely watched due to its high profile, reducing the risk of inadvertent negative consequences. I can only hope I am right about that, given the amazing possibilities in nanotechnology development.
As always, I welcome your comments. – Tim
Understanding Potential Toxic Effects of Carbon-Based Nanomaterials, July 10, 2006, Nanotech News, NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health