[Paleopsych] NYT: Experts Give Scientists Roadmap on Nanotechnology Research
checker at panix.com
Mon Oct 10 01:07:08 UTC 2005
Experts Give Scientists Roadmap on Nanotechnology Research
By BARNABY FEDER
Little is known so far about whether materials being invented by
nanotechnology researchers can be hazardous to humans and if so,
under what conditions.
But at least toxicologists studying such questions now have a broad
roadmap from a government-sponsored panel of experts on how to
Formally titled Principles for characterizing the potential human
health effects from exposure to nanomaterials: elements of a screening
strategy, the 85 page report, along with supporting documents, was
published yesterday on the website of Particle and Fibre Toxicology,
an online scientific journal.
This is just looking at the human health effects, not how to test the
impact on the broader environment, said Barbara Karn, an environmental
scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency, the sponsor of the
study. Thats also very important but eco-toxicity involves different
types of tests.
Nanotechnology is a collection of processing skills and products in
which crucial dimensions are measured in nanometers, or billionths of
a meter, a scale so tiny that molecular forces affect behavior. The
report is concerned with materials, either natural or manmade, with at
least one dimension smaller than 100 nanometers that is crucial to
Nanoscale materials often behave differently than the same materials
in larger sizes. That gives them valuable new attributes like unusual
strength or electrical characteristics, but it also raises questions
about whether new products incorporating them might be unexpectedly
Hundreds of products embodying nanotechnology, including consumer
items like invisible sunscreens and stain-resistant clothing are
already in use. But exploitation of the technology is still in its
early stages and the quantities of nanomaterials in production are
The lead author on the toxicology report is Günter Oberdörster, a
toxicologist at the University of Rochester whose research has
demonstrated that some nanoscale materials can migrate from the nose
into the brain. He, Ms. Karn and the other 13 authors of the report
cited a wide range of studies suggesting that nanoscale products may
pose new health hazards.
The report focuses primarily on just one half of the risk the likely
toxic impact of nanoparticles in the body. There is little comment on
how to study the second crucial issue, the actual risk of exposure,
because there are currently few instances where people are directly
exposed to the new materials.
The report emphasizes the need to characterize the particles in
numerous ways, including shape, surface area, electrical
characteristics and how likely they are to quickly form clumps that
interact with the body differently than separate particles. It also
describes a variety of tests for studying the impact of the materials
on different organs and to test the different impacts of eating,
breathing or touching the particles.
The detail in the report highlights why toxicology research generally
moves at a glacial pace compared to new product development. That
discrepancy has led some critics of nanotechnology to call for strict
government regulation or moratoriums on the introduction of products
based on the technology. But advocates for the technology say that the
report released yesterday is one of many signs that development is
moving along with reasonable caution.
Its extraordinary that so much attention is being paid to health and
safety risks at this early stage of development, said Michael R.
Pontrelli, a lawyer in Boston who has been studying potential
liability issues with the technology.
The report does not propose any kinds of tests that are not already
familiar to toxicologists, according to Ms. Karn. This is the way to
identify health impacts on humans, she said. We were not looking for
methods that would show why the particles had those effects. You might
need nanoscale tests for that.
More information about the paleopsych