Sat 23 Jul, 2011 11:16 am
What is nanotechnology?
There is still not an internationally accepted nomenclature, set of definitions and measurement systems for nanotechnology, although work towards these has begun. The lack of a standardized nomenclature and measurement system has made it difficult to compare safety tests, exposure measurement and risk assessment carried out to date. However, the term 'nanotechnology' is now generally understood to encompass both nanoscience and the broad range of technologies that operate at the nanoscale.
* Nanoscience: The study of phenomena and materials at the atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at the larger scale
* Nanotechnology: design, characterization, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at the nanoscale
* Nanoscale: having one or more dimensions of the order of 100nm or less, or having at least one dimension that affects functional behavior at this scale
* Nanomaterials: particles, nanotubes, nanowires, quantum dots, fullerenes (buckyballs) etc that exist at a scale of 100nm or less, or that have at least one dimension that affects their functional behavior at this scale One nanometre (nm) is one thousandth of a micrometer (ìm), one millionth of a millimeter (mm) and one billionth of a meter (m). To put 100 nanometers in context: a strand of DNA is 2.5nm wide, a protein molecule is 5nm, a virus particle 150nm, a red blood cell 7,000 nm and a human hair is 80, 000 nm wide and a flea is around 1,000,000nm in size.
Engineered vs. incidental nanoparticles
Engineered nanoparticles are deliberately manufactured and can be distinguished from nanoparticles that 'exist in nature', or are by-products of other human activities. 'Incidental' nanoparticles (also called ultrafine particles in the study of air pollution and its epidemiology) are a by-product of forest fires and volcanoes, and high-temperature industrial processes including combustion, welding, grinding and vehicle combustion. It is the manufactured or engineered nanotechnological products and processes that are the primary focus of the issues raised in this briefing paper. However many of the safety and regulatory issues relating to manufactured nanoparticles are also relevant to incidentally produced nanoparticles (e.g. the need to establish safe workplace exposure limits for all types of nanoparticles).
Make nano a no-no on your summer vacation!
While you’re planning your summer vacation and thinking about what to pack, don’t forget the sunscreen -- but make sure it doesn’t have manufactured nanoparticles in it!
Nanosunscreens have the potential to cause serious human and environmental harm, but there is nothing stopping companies from selling them. Nevertheless, consumers are becoming more aware of this issue. This summer Friends of the Earth is encouraging you to become educated about the sunscreen products you use in order to avoid potentially toxic manufactured nanomaterials.
Nanotechnology. Human gene doping. Cloned meat. Fire Retardants. Gene patents. Emerging technologies and harmful chemicals are appearing in consumer products and in our communities, and they have serious impacts on people and our environment. Corporations often seek profit from scientific developments, with little regard for human health.
Friends of the Earth is a fierce advocate of scientific progress, but people must be put before profits, and we must take precaution to ensure new technologies don’t do more harm than good.