If you fancy getting up to speed with heath and environmental risks of nanotechnologies, or more specifically nanoparticles, then you can take your pick from a veritable onslaught of information this week.
DEFRA (The Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs) weighs in with â€œCharacterising The Potential Risks Posed By Engineered Nanoparticlesâ€, the Royal Society has a report on a UK-Japanese workshop on potential health, environmental and societal impacts of nanotechnologies, and the USâ€™s Woodrow Wilson Centre announced the First Research Inventory of the Environmental, Health and Safety Impacts of Nanotechnology.
While a few years ago we would greet new programs on safety and nanotoxicology with glee, we detect a certain creeping numbness as every expert and their dogs spend hundreds of pages explaining that we need to do more research.
We are not entirely convinced by any of this. While some of the recent output represents a valid and useful exchange of information, other elements do have a feeling of ‘being seen to be addressing the issue’ about them. It is very easy to speculate and pontificate, but the real insights will come from the research community. While we wait for them to bring some sort of order to the field, letâ€™s just be careful out there, and make sure the research community has the tools and the funding to perform thorough, impartial and independent studies.
I am very interested in getting a handle on the health and environmental risks of nanotechnology, and would like to avoid both those who are dismissive of the possibility of risk, and those who are alarmist. Do you have any recommendations on the best place(s) to start?
The 2004 Royal Society report is probably the best place to start for a balanced and rational view (www.nanotec.org.uk). In general the government backed studies are more balanced than those from either pressure groups or the popular press. There are also a number of EU studies buried somewhere in this section (http://www.cordis.lu/nanotechnology/) but they seem to move around a bit.