Nanotechnology Makes Tiny Particles, Big Health Problems

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lab-rat-and-atomic-structurNanotechnology?  Is that what Mork from Ork says when he picks up his cellphone?

Actually, nanotechnology is the industry where scientists take different substances and isolate their smallest possible particles. And by “small,” we’re talking about sizes once thought impossible (as small as five atoms lined up side by side).  The reason the industry is investing billions to harness these tiny particles is that, once isolated, those particles take on new, unpredictable, and sometimes highly profitable attributes (let’s call them NUSHPAs).

Today, nanotechnology is being harnessed to improve stain-resistant clothing, cosmetics, computers,  drugs, medical procedures, and more.

Great.  Who doesn’t wish their favorite white shirt could withstand the blood-colored assault waiting in the bottom of that slippery third glass of red wine?  (Ten months on, I’ll admit that I’m still mourning the loss of one such shirt.)  Better living through science, right?  And if a company can profit by bringing us the products we want, why should anyone stand in their way?

Well, break out your mini mai tai umbrella, friends, because there’s a storm on the horizon, and it’s going to rain little microdroplets on the nanoprofit parade.

Did anyone think to consider the “NU” in NUSHPAs?  That is, did we stop to wonder if the new and unpredictable attributes of nanomaterials include new and unpredictable health problems?  Well, insert a throat-clearing sound here, because CEH raised these concerns back in 2006, calling on the FDA to require safety testing and labeling of products made with nanomaterials.

When we consider something new and unpredictable, aren’t we entering an arena where we ought to look before we leap?  Somehow, the FDA didn’t think so, and rather than taking a cautious approach, the agency ignored our petition, arguing that the particles were just tiny versions of substances already deemed safe.

But this just in:  nanoparticals do affect people’s health.  Just ask the two workers recently killed by nanomaterials in paint products.

The nanotechnology industry is now poised to take in hundreds of billions of dollars in the next year, selling products whose new and unpredictable health effects are totally untested.  This spotlights the fundamental environmental health problem of our day:  that businesses are allowed to unleash dangerous, potentially lethal substances on us without being required to prove those substances are safe.

It’s time we learned from the regulatory failure that brought us DDT, PCBs, asbestos, and other highly toxic substances that have destroyed lives and families everywhere.  Along with our allies in Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy, CEH is working to fix this backward system.  Learn how you can take part in the work here.

And learn more about the movement to protect people from the hazards of this untested technology here.

Keywords: Nanu-nanu, nanotech, NUSHPAs