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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 1/21/2007 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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