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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 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....


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