Searching for “Nano-victims”

We have previously mentioned the burgeoning nanotoxicology industry, and hardly a day goes by without some worthy organisation calling for more funding to be diverted from research to risk assessment.

Technology Review takes issue with the growing culture of worry, recalling the Y2k panic with “not since New Year’s Eve 2000, have so many safety concerns been voiced for what–so far, anyway–seems so little reason.” It is a valid if provocative point, and although the counter argument is that we do not know what may happen when these new materials interact with the human body or the environment, we could say the same about mobile phones and their associated electromagnetic infrastructure.

Mobile phones are another victim less technology. Despite fears of brain tumours due to the local heating from absorbtion of microwave radiation, the hundreds of millions of devices in use over the past decade has failed to show any significant pattern of harm.

While it right to be cautious about the interaction of high concentrations of engineered nanoparticles with the environment, worrying about this is not exclusively the domain of nanotoxicologists. Most companies are well aware of the effect that class action suits would have on them, as well as the brand damage caused by any health scares, and already take significant steps to minimise risks.

The number and variety of new nanomaterials means that toxicology studies will always be running to catch up with science and industry, and it seems that there is not much we can do about that. As a result much of the discussion about toxicology is currently based on speculation rather than science, and there is nothing like a good scare story to grab a few headlines and worry some more cash out of politicians.

In the meantime toxicology studies have to be funded, and handsomely so, but perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about imposing new regulations on a market that already has many of the necessary risk minimization procedures in place for financial reasons, at least not until we have some facts to go on.

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