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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.

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 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 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 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.

RE: Just hope it gets done right-
By masher2 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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