The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been under pretty steady pressure over the last five years to look at nanoparticles in terms of their size rather than their chemistry. It appears they have finally succumbed.I suppose this is a positive move, but when one considers that the microscopy tools that are needed to investigate these nanoparticles outside of a vacuum hardly exist and that some kind of universal standards of measurement have still to be arrived at I remain somewhat conflicted. Just from a social science point of view, I am not sure that nanotech’s critics will ever be satisfied with the results, especially if they prove that the risks of nanoparticles are negligible. The raison d’etre of your typical anti-nanotech NGO has always come across as being less about the dangers of nanotechnology and more about fears of globalization and big business. If anyone wants really satisfactory answers to the impact of nanoparticles in the environment or on the human body, they should be prepared to wait a long time because they will have to develop, and even invent, the tools necessary to measure them in these situations. Honestly, I don’t think anyone on either side of this debate has the patience to wait for that.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.
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