Environmentalists turn spotlight on nanotechnology

nano01.jpgIn September, IEEE Spectrum published an article by Barbara Karn and H. Scott Matthews calling for more research into the environmental and health effects of nanotechnologies. They urged the technology industry, for once, to thoroughly investigate the potential downside of a technology before it becomes pervasive.

Since then, other organizations have added their voices to this call for caution.

This month, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition announced that it will soon release a report, â''Potential Community Impacts of Nanotechnology, that draws parallels between the first Silicon Valley electronics boom, that left a legacy of medical problems, Superfund sites, and contaminated groundwater, and the current nanotechnology boom, with materials being put into use without an understanding of their potential risks. The organization promised to focus its efforts in 2008 on the potential risks of nanotechnology; that likely means putting pressure on companies to improve testing before products are brought to market.

Also this month, in Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 30 countries that cooperate on economic, social, and environmental issues, announced that its member countries will pool funding to test nanomaterials already in use or about to come onto the market and will consider whether the organizations traditional test guidelines, used for other materials, are suitable for assessing nanomaterials or if new testing need to be developed.

Meanwhile, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, the list of products on the market that include nanomaterials, a group that included just over 500 products back in September, has grown to 580, from A (like Acnel Lotion, which contains a nanoform of CoEnzyme Q10) to Z (the Z-ion Zirconia hair dryer, which contains nanoparticles of zirconium).

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