Nanotech's Need to Strike a Balance in Risk Management

I am encouraged that in the debates surrounding the Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) concerns over nanoparticles that two of the most noted thought leaders in the US (and by extension, internationally) on the subject, Andrew Maynard and Kristen Kulinowski, have consistently remained scientific in their approach to the risks of nanoparticles while the media, NGOs and nanotech proponents have often behaved otherwise.

As recent evidence of this, I have already cited Andrew Maynard’s balanced discussion of the recent research indicating that nanoparticles can inflict harm across biological barriers. And I was also pleased to read Kristen Kulinowski’s recent guest editorial at AZoNano.com entitled “Temptation, Temptation, Temptation: Why Easy Answers About Nanomaterial Risk are Probably Wrong”

Kulinowski itemizes three temptations in the editorial:

Temptation #1: Generalizing Results from One Study to All of "Nanotechnology"

Temptation #2: Mischaracterizing the Impacts Research as Either Non-Existent or Conclusive

Temptation #3: Basing Risk Management Decisions on Non-Nanoscale Materials

The first two temptations I wholeheartedly agree with Kulinowski on. However, on the third temptation I have to hedge somewhat. I am in part influenced by the argument of Professor Simon Brown at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand that we may not get every piece of data we want to make risk management decisions on nanoparticles, but we may need to make our decisions with a certain degree of uncertainty about the risks.

The risks that emanate from a lack of risk management in nanoparticles are two nearly opposing scenarios. In one scenario, workers developing products using nanoparticles could be risking their health and there may even be risk for consumers that products containing nanoparticles could be hazardous during their entire life cycle. And in the other scenario, we are deprived of the benefits that nanoparticles could impart because of some knee-jerk reaction that bans there use entirely due to our inability to develop a reasonable risk management framework that quieted the screams of the fear mongers. 

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

 
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Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
 
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