Ottawa, Canada –
Biotechnology, nuclear power, toxic chemicals, electromagnetic radiation — each of these technological hazards has a universally recognized warning symbol associatedwith it. So why not nanotechnology — the world’s most powerful (and potentially dangerous) technology?
Take a look at a catalogue of entries here.
Why Do We Need a Nano-Hazard Symbol?
Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at the tiny level of atoms and molecules, has created a new class of materials with unusual properties and new toxicities.It used to be that nanotechnology was the stuff of science fiction. Today, however, there are over one thousand nanotechnology companies worldwide. Nanoparticles, nanotubes and other engineered nanomaterials are already in use in hundreds of everyday consumer products, raising significant health, safety and environmental concerns. Nanoparticles are able to move around the body and the environment more readily than larger particles of pollution. Because of their extremely small size and large surface area nanoparticles may be more reactive and more toxic than larger particles of the same substance. They have been compared to asbestos by leading insurance companies who worry their health impact could lead to massive claims. At least one US-based insurance company has canceled coverage of small companies involved with nanotechnology. Unlike more familiar forms of pollution arising from new technologies, nano-hazards (potentially endangering consumers, workers and the environment) have yet to be fully characterized, regulated or even subject to safety testing. The US Food and Drug Administration will have its first public meeting about regulating nanomaterials on October 10, 2006. Most governments worldwide have yet to even begin thinking about nano-regulation. Nonetheless, nanoparticles invisible to the naked eye are already in foods, cosmetics, pesticides and clothing without even being labelled. Every day laboratory and factory workers could be inhaling and ingesting nanoparticles while the rest of us may be unwittingly putting them on our skin, in our body or in the environment.It’s not just a safety question. Nanotechnology also raises new societal hazards: The granting of patents on nano-scale materials and processes, and even elements of the periodic table, allows for increased corporate power and monopoly over the smallest parts of nature. Some designer nanomaterials may come to replace natural products such as cotton, rubber and metals — displacing the livelihoods of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. In the near future the merger of nanotechnology with biotechnology (in nano-biotechnology applications such as synthetic biology) will lead to new designer organisms, modified at the molecular level, posing new biosafety threats. Nano-enabled technologies also aim to ‘enhance’ human beings and ‘fix’ the disabled, a goal that raises troubling ethical issues and the specter of a new divide between the technologically “improved” and “unimproved.”ETC Group has called for a moratorium on nanoparticle production and release to allow for a full societal debate and until such time as precautionary regulations are in place to protect workers, consumers and the environment. Standard setting bodies around the world are now scrambling to agree on nomenclature that can describe nanoparticles and nanomaterials. A common, internationally-recognized symbol warning of the presence of engineered nanomaterials is equally overdue.