We are fascinated every-time a new electronic or product comes out that is smaller, cheaper, and faster than ever. We are fascinated at how technology is advancing and how efficient we can use the resources around us to make life easier. However, even if it appears to be legitimate and based primarily through the advancement of human knowledge, the phrase “It seems too good to be true” never seems to lose its popularity. Nanotechnology is being used every day to develop new electronics and products. However, are we taking a hit to the environment and to our health with the use of these products?
Nanotechnology is a branch of science that deals with particles 1-100 nanometers in size. Billions of dollars are being pumped into incorporating nanotechnology. Many experts believe that possible dangers of nanotechnology lie within how these tiny particles may interact with the environment. Many experts say that elements encountered on the nanoscale behave differently than their larger counterparts. Here are some facts about nanotechnology that need some attention to:
1. Nobel-winning physicist Richard Smalley of Rice University discovered that carbon nanotubes and fullerenes, which are nanoparticles of carbon, react differently to the environment. These nanoparticles of carbon behave in ways differently and make their classification a potentially dangerous one.
2. In March 2004, environmental toxicologist Eva Oberdörster, Ph.D. conducted some tests with the Southern Methodist University in Texas. They found that there was extensive brain damage to fish that were exposed to fullerenes for a period of only 48 hours at a relatively moderate dose of 0.5 parts per million. They also experienced gene markups in their livers, which indicates that their entire physiology was affected in the process. In a concurrent test, the fullerene killed water fleas.
3. In 2002, CBEN (Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology) indicated that nanoparticles accumulated in the bodies of lab animals and fullerene could easily travel through soil and be absorbed by earthworms. This is a potential link up in the food chain to humans.
4. In early 2002, the University of California in San Diego revealed that cadmium selenide nanoparticles, also known as quantum dots, may cause cadmium poisoning in humans.
5. In 2004, British scientist Vyvyan Howard published initial findings that had indicated gold nanoparticles might travel through a mother’s placenta to the fetus.
6. In 1997, Oxford scientists discovered that nanoparticles found in sunscreen created free radicals that had damaged DNA.
The smaller the particles, the more bio-active, damaging, and toxic they become. This is because their ability to interact with other living systems increases, make it easy for them to cross the skin, lung, and blood/brain barriers. Although we humans have built-in defenses to protect ourselves from natural particles we encounter, nanotechnology is introducing new kinds of particles that some experts say the body might find toxic. Those highest at risk are those employed by the manufacturers to produce products that contain nanoparticles.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that over two-million Americans are exposed to high levels of nanoparticles. They believe that this figure will soon rise to four-million in the near future.