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Nano-particles clumping up in water -- photo courtesy of John Fortner of Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Are we ready for close encounters with nanopollution? How will we know without research!

As technology enters the close of the first decade this millennium, nanotechnology becomes increasingly more important in product development. Processors, chipsets, memory, displays and other electronics are marching toward the use of nanotech at and astonishing rate. In the U.S., we're already developing technology manufactured at the nanometer and sub-nanometer (picometer) level.

Carbon nanotubes, a high strength and versatile material composed of molecular configurations of pure carbon, may be the key to next generation technology in everything from the space elevator to high-speed processors. DailyTech previously reported that future Seagate hard drives may be lubricated by nanotubes. Weeks later MIT researchers released a report that claimed new nanotube-type batteries could be recharged in seconds and hold charges much longer than conventional rechargeable batteries. 

But outside of research, nanotech is here already. Research advocates have identified more than 400 consumer products in the U.S. labeled as "nano-based."  Some of these products, like microprocessors, pose relatively little risk to consumer, but the long term effects of other products like nano-aerosols is a bit less understood.  Additionally, the manufacturing by-products of these products are completely unregulated or monitored.

Nanotech and the production of nano-based devices create a type of pollution that is so small, it is extremely difficult to detect or contain. Researchers are afraid of the effect that nanopollution might have on humans, animals and other living organisms.

Nanoparticles are so small that they easily penetrate cells, a handy technique when geneticists attempt to modify genes when done intentionally. However, even when deliberate, the body detects foreign objects and creates phagocytes to break down invading material. Of course, if the body's phagocytes are busy digesting nanoparticles, the cells can't break down bacteria or other debris inside the body. Quantum dots, or nanoparticles used for semiconductors, are so small that they will actually pass right through cell walls -- yet we have relatively little research on what occurs when quantum dots interact with the human body.

DailyTech
previously reported on carbon nanotubes and the possible effect on the human respiratory system -- a place where nanotubes has already been documented to cause problems in significant quantities.

But nano-related health hazards aren't the only worries; environmental problems pose equal hazards.  Michael Moffitt, vice president of environmental services for Western Technologies, is concerned about the future of nanopollution, and describes nanotech as "a double-edged sword," to during a presentation at the Semiconductor Environmental Safety Association convention held in 2005. 

The problem researchers have today is determining whether or not nanopollutants behave the same in the natural environment as other common waste products.  Andrew Maynard, one of the few advocates for nanotechnology research with regard to occupational health, has issued a call for national awareness of nanotechnology interactions on the nanoproject.org portal. "The good news is that international concern over how to ensure safe nanotech workplaces has resulted in some progress. The bad news is that critical questions about worker safety -- and about broader environmental, human health and safety issues -- remain unanswered," Maynard claims.

Researchers at Rice University Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology are currently investigating possible means of treating nano-waste products before they are released into the environment. While experimenting with fullerenes or buckyballs composed of C60 carbon nanoparticles, researchers found that it was not possible to dispose of nano-waste using traditional means. But never mind attempts at disposal, the few researchers involved with buckyball research are actually still debating on whether or not fullerenes are even hazardous to organisms.

The terms "nanopollution" and "nanowaste" will become ever more popular as the decade comes to a close. On a global scale, current technology already has a number of ecological problems such as dumping and e-waste, and the ugly side nano-tech make its appearance sooner than later if we're not vigilant.



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RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By masher2 (blog) on 1/19/2007 10:35:36 AM , Rating: 1
Don't even get me started on DDT, one the largest scams in environmental history. Banning DDT was a travesty, and one that directly resulted in the deaths of millions of people. We nearly had malaria eradicated before the ban...shortly after it, we had 1-2 million per YEAR dying from it again.

I'd also like to point out that several nations never banned DDT, and have continued to widely use it for decades. They're all doing just fine, have no health problems, and their bird populations are all doing just fine.

Lead paint? Sure, it was a bad idea, so we banned it. End of story. It hardly resulted in our destroying the environment though, or us sterilizing the entire planet.

I'll skip on debating the other two for now.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By Spivonious on 1/19/2007 11:05:10 AM , Rating: 2
DDT was proven to soften eggshells of several bird species (most notably the peregrine falcon) and was leading to their extinction. Just because it didn't affect humans doesn't mean it's a "scam."

Now, asbestos on the other hand, I agree is a scam. It is still the most fire-retardant material we know of. The cancer claims are based on when rats ingested large amounts of asbestos dust. First of all, unless you're climbing around in the ceiling, you won't ingest asbestos dust. Second, you'd have to ingest a whole lot to cause some cancer. Third, nicotine causes cancer and look how many people still smoke/chew.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By masher2 (blog) on 1/19/2007 11:15:00 AM , Rating: 1
> "DDT was proven to soften eggshells of several bird species (most notably the peregrine falcon)"

Incorrect. Some researchers found that some areas with high uses of DDT also higher levels of eggshell softening. One problem. Correlation does not prove causation. Areas with high use of chlorinated water (dense urban areas) also have the highest rates of AIDS infection. Yet chlorinated water does not cause AIDS.

Areas with high use of DDT were areas in which humans were prevalent. In other words, areas where birds would be more likely to be under stress. And stress causes shell softening. The researchers simply found a false correlation.

There were several research projects in which birds were intentionally fed massive doses of DDT, far larger than they could expect to see in the environment. No shell softening was found. This was further born out by those nations which never banned DDT, continued to widely use it, and see no decline in their own bir populations.


By Spivonious on 1/19/2007 3:03:39 PM , Rating: 1
Touche` :)


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By Larso on 1/19/2007 9:35:02 PM , Rating: 2
"Correlation does not prove causation". While that is certainly true, I don't believe it in the case of DDT. What I'm told (being a European) is that DDT worked its way up the food chain increasing in concentration. While most animals were not unaffected much, the concentration was so high in the top of the food chain, that for instance birds of prey were significantly set back in population.

Proven to beyond doubt or not, I think that the issue of getting concentrated up the food chain is in enough to mark DDT a Bad Thing to get rid of.

I agree with you completely on the argument that technology has improved daily life incredibly much at many levels. But I don't think you should embrace all breakthroughs unconditionally. You have to be critical and seperate the good stuff from the bad stuff. But for the most time it is not possible to make a fully rational decision based on conclusive scientific research, so you have to go on intuition. For instance, I don't like plastics that emit funny smells. So if I am to store food in a container I will take a glass one over a plastic one.

Similarly, I will probably be cautious of nano particle products where you risc getting exposed to the particles.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By masher2 (blog) on 1/20/07, Rating: 0
RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By Ringold on 1/20/2007 9:34:34 PM , Rating: 1
"And you ignore the most telling argument in favor of DDT. Human life. "

That's what I've been thinking. So what if it really does devastate the 'Peregrine Falcon' population. I'd trade a few human lives for a mountain of dead birds any day. Not even environmentalists deserve death by malaria.. Some of these children being killed by mosquito-born diseases, who knows, perhaps one of them would've otherwise grown to be a George Washington that would've restored stability to the country. Instead, he's worm food, because of concern for.. birds?!

Also plays in to my belief that one day Earth will resemble Coruscant. Not much room for animals on Coruscant.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By bigbrent88 on 1/21/2007 1:50:50 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Also plays in to my belief that one day Earth will resemble Coruscant. Not much room for animals on Coruscant.
Not much food on Coruscant , unless nanotubes lead to food replicators or we terraform Mars into a big ranch of cattle and fish farms. But who would want to go into space then, just to view a big silver planet. I think I prefer the blue, green and white sphere that I get to see on NASA TV whenever we send a shuttle up.

quote:
I'd trade a few human lives for a mountain of dead birds any day.
Your parents locked you up in the bedroom a lot didn't they? Obviously your only steps outside involve walking to the car and maybe grabbing some mail. There's more to life than catching that new episode of American Idol in 1080p, damn Seacrest looks great in high def!

quote:
Instead, he's worm food, because of concern for.. birds?!
You know its funny, but worms are bird food. So it looks like the food chain is in proper order on this one.

I may come across as an uncaring ass with the above comments, but I don't like seeing all the suffering in 3rd world countries either. Its criminal what governments and industry do to the people in the lower rank of society. You think most of those people clearing the brazilian forests want to do it, many of them are just born into horrible conditions and go into survival mode doing what they can. There are just no other options for them in their life. Such is their problem and no amounts of DDT is going to create your so called George Washington to save their sham countries. Social reform starting in a whole generation is the only way for them to ever grow out of their problems, and our higher societies shouldn't place our tech problems on them.

Back to Nanotech waste, It seems right now that there arent enough nano tech products to stop using them all together. I think nano tech and studies on their waste can work side by side until evidence can be concluded.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By masher2 (blog) on 1/21/07, Rating: 0
RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By Spivonious on 1/21/2007 5:05:51 PM , Rating: 2
We're overcrowded in most countries now anyway. I'm glad that we don't have tens of millions more people. Eventually natural selection will produce a race of malaria-resistant people in malaria-prone areas.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By masher2 (blog) on 1/21/2007 7:40:35 PM , Rating: 1
> "I'm glad that we don't have tens of millions more people."

Translation: I'm glad those people-- most of them children-- died a horrible, painful death. Environmentalists often make such callous statements...then call the rest of us "heartless" for not caring much about a population of kangaroo rats.

> " Eventually natural selection will produce a race of malaria-resistant people in malaria-prone areas."

It already has. Unfortunately, the trait that conveys malarial resistance also conveys sickle-cell anemia.

To take your idea further, if we let anyone who had diabetes die of it also, along with hemophilia, CF, Huntingdons, and all other genetic diseases, we'd eventually all be a lot healthier. I think a man named Hitler had the same sort of ideas once.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By oTAL on 1/22/2007 4:05:51 PM , Rating: 2
I was kind of having those same thoughts, but I was searching for a way to say it less bluntly... I do agree that the world is overpopulated and I think it's ridiculous to use the "he could have been a new Gandhi" argument against Malaria or abortion... cause it can be twisted around into "he could have been another Hitler / child-molester / or just another poor-bastard who lived his short life in misery....

The gentle equilibrium between everyone having the right to live and population control is hard to resolve... The best choice is probably the one requiring extensive measures to limit natality (births)... we should limit by not conceiving... problem there is that in the developed world you see the "less apt" people reproduce more and the "more apt" people reproduce less... that means that the most intelligent and successful people are diminishing in their contribution to the human genetic pool... that can't be a good thing... but what's the option? Gattaca? Share your opinions....


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 1/19/2007 11:59:36 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Now, asbestos on the other hand, I agree is a scam.


I'd think the thousands of shipworkers that contracted Asbestosis would disagree with you. Of course, research needs to be done so that the manufacturers of this stuff are just as safe as the consumers.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By Spivonious on 1/19/2007 3:06:55 PM , Rating: 2
That's not asbestos's fault, it's the way the asbestos was handled. If you inhale large quantities of snow flakes, you'll drown. Should we outlaw snow?


By therealnickdanger on 1/19/2007 3:17:41 PM , Rating: 1
Touche salesman.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By retrospooty on 1/19/2007 12:35:16 PM , Rating: 2
Masher, this reminds me of a previous article where you were pro-genetically altered food products. You can't play god and alter this planet forever without consequences. Life is a delicate balance, and we need to respect it and at least acknowledge there can be hidden consequences that we do not yet understand.

I wonder how you would feel if you found out these pollutants were in your well water that you and your loved ones were drinking for years... but the govt. says its safe. You child develops cancer and no-one knows why. It happens man. Be aware.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By masher2 (blog) on 1/19/2007 1:18:38 PM , Rating: 2
> "You can't play god and alter this planet forever without consequences..."

You're right, there will be consequences. Countless good consequences...just as there have been since man climbed out of the caves and started using his mind.

When the science of medicine first began to be developed, mobs of angry citizens just like you accused researchers and doctors of "playing god". Today, it saves hundreds of millions of lives annually, and prevents countless people from suffering and agony. Thank god we didn't listen then...and hopefully we'll be as wise today.

> "I wonder how you would feel if you found out these pollutants were in your well water that you and your loved ones were drinking for years"

There are tens of thousands of pollutants in my well water right now. The vast majority of them are natural...and natural or artificial, all of them are well below levels considered dangerous. Sorry, you're not going to sell me a scare story so easily.


By retrospooty on 1/19/2007 1:57:15 PM , Rating: 2
okeedokee then. =)

I am with you on this particular one, prolly not a big issue, but many others are.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By Xietsu on 1/19/2007 3:16:00 PM , Rating: 2
IMO, it seems quite evident that, at least to some degree, masher2 holds the perspective of an affrontive opposition. It was in no way an intention of his to ignite paranoia within you in regard to your water supply, but to keep in mind the level to which you seek progression relative to precaution. This is key, and this is central to our ethical obligations in pursuance of a better quality of life. Sure, many of these representations drawn by Kubicki may in reality be unaffecting, but the thesis lies in that here is a new consideration, and one we need address with due prudence. Simply because modern media plays central focus upon that which may affect one's health in detrimental form means in no way that this holds relavence now. As far as I can tell, the organizations mentioned in the article are out to investigate and ensure pursuance with an adequate level of foresight.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By Ringold on 1/19/2007 8:49:19 PM , Rating: 2
It hasn't become bad in this topic yet (maybe the environmentalists haven't logged on for the night yet), but there are segments of society that resist certain things irrationally in order to push their agenda.

I'm referring mostly to the global warming crowd (not that global warming is much disputed, just the 'why', the 'how fast', the 'how bad' and the 'what can we do about it' parts). The organic food group, the anti-nuclear groups, and various conspiracy theorists are through their resistance, whether they know it or not, attempting to advance their socialist agenda where the government keeps us presumably safe from all these nasty things in the world. Proof? It's funny that almost every proposed solution to the climate "crisis" involves essentially a shotgun to the chest of capitalism, and organic food rejects the concepts of modern productivity in farming and uses long-outdated techniques that are "green".

Those people need to be combated with logic -- something they dont use themselves. Masher doesn't pick on reasonable folk. I used to think Masher was a little rough on people, but... I've learned to sit back, enjoy, and learn a thing or two.


RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By idboracle on 1/22/2007 10:30:55 AM , Rating: 2
"It hasn't become bad in this topic yet (maybe the environmentalists haven't logged on for the night yet), but there are segments of society that resist certain things irrationally in order to push their agenda."

Like Bush and his oily friends in the petroleum business. Screw the world over for a quick buck, never mind if it causes the deaths of millions. We'll probably be dead anyway by the time Global Warming really sets in, and anyway, we can use our money to insulate us from the most devestating effects. We can just turn off our tvs if there too much news about people dying from floods, starvation, war or any of a hundred other ways global warming is going to hit those poor sods in the third world.


By masher2 (blog) on 1/22/2007 11:19:24 AM , Rating: 2
> We can just turn off our tvs if there too much news about people dying from floods..."

I think yours is already off, as you missed the news of the UN lowering its estimate of sea-level rise from global warming. The new estimate is 17 inches (0.4 meters) over the next 100 years. A bit hard to die from "flooding" at a rate of a half-centimeter per year.

By all indications, global warming will, by increasing growing seasons and plant growth rates, increase the amount of food grown each year as well. So much for scare stories of "mass starvation".


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