Midwest Insurance Company Excludes Nanotechnology from its Policies

I have to admit that I saw this tidbit a week or two ago over at Nanodot and found it to be so outlandish that I thought it fell into too-ridiculous-to-comment category.

But people kept sending me the links to the news story usually accompanied with some slack-jawed, bewildered comment.

It is bewildering. First, who is this Des Moines, IA-based Continental Western Insurance Group? I have never heard of the insurer, but I am not a Midwest farm. If someone would like to enlighten me as to the nanoparticle producers they currently insure (or should I say, used to insure), I would welcome the information.

Second, excluding â''nanotechnologyâ''?! Okay, you could make some poorly informed, taking hearsay over science decision that nanoparticles, or even more precisely carbon nanotubes, have exhibited some similarities to asbestos, albeit with research still inconclusive. But nanotechnology?

What is that supposed to be exactly? Will that include STMs and AFMs, key tools in nanotechnology? Will that include the GMR effect used in your computer so you can store 100 gigabytes of family photos?

I have to commend the Nanobusiness Alliance in being extremely restrained in their response:

We believe the decision to exclude â''nanotubes and nanotechnologyâ'' was not well thought out. Treating nanotechnology as if it is monolithic makes no sense. A technology itself does not have risks and benefits â'' only the embodiments of the technology in the form of products do. Furthermore, the definitions were sufficiently broad that almost any business to be subject to the exclusion. This is the first exclusion. We hope that it will be reconsidered or pulled back altogether once the insurer understands the implications of the general-purpose exclusion they created. But, we must also educate insurers so that they do not make ill informed policy like this in the future.

The Nanobusiness Alliance is absolutely correct and at the same time generous to a fault. Instead, I am afraid this is just a further example of how just a small seed of misinformation can lead to dangerous stupidity.

The question I canâ''t seem to resolve is what was the point of the announcement? I keep pondering what possible purpose it served: giving notice to the Midwest nanoparticle industry to not knock on Continental Westernâ''s door when looking for a policy? Or demonstrating what a forward thinking, risk adverse trailblazer the company is to its current customers?

If itâ''s the former, well I am not sure that they are turning away much business, and the little that they are will find the insurance they need. If it was the latter, it probably would be a safe bet that the current customers probably didnâ''t know about nanotechnology never mind care about its toxicological issues.

Bewildering, indeed.

Related Stories

Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.

Advertisement
Advertisement