The Promise and Peril of Nanotechnology
“Carbon nanotubes are smaller and harder than asbestos fibers, making it easier for them to enter the lungs and likely to cause far greater damage once there. Yet there are no standards for controlling them as a potential hazard in the lab or end-products.”
I was startled when I read this over five years ago in Science News. The article featured past discoveries and technologies with great capability or promise, but whose use was now banned, due to simple failure to consider and address inherent risks. Lessons from the past were followed by new, highly-promising discoveries with readily identifiable risks still waiting to be addressed.
Today, more than five years later, the risks for nanotechnology are still not addressed according to @WIREsNanomed (on Twitter), who brought to my attention a newly-released paper written by scientific representatives at the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, American Chemistry Council Long-Range Research Initiative; EPA; and Silicones Environmental, Health and Safety Council of North America. The paper calls for researchers and standard-setters to pursue the establishment of appropriate standards to safeguard ourselves and the technology.
Those representing the businesses and other organizations who do/will benefit from nanotechnology should take the lead. While my quote from the Science News article is based on recollection, its point is unalterable. The ultimate cost of inadequate protective standards is the viability of the technology itself, even ignoring financial and ethical responsibilities for harm done. With many products already touting their inclusion of nanotechnology, the time for research to preserve its benefits is now.