Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nobel prize and nanotechnology

I see three eggheads won the Nobel prize for finding a new way to link carbon atoms. What they were referring to was the production of nanotechnology. The thought occurred to me some of the ramifications of this technology. I've dealt with many chemicals over the years but my reference point in terms of size is asbestos. An asbestos fiber is 3 microns. This is why your vacuum with HEPA filter can catch particles down to that size. It's 99.97% efficient. Nano material is far smaller than that. That little fact had me wondering about how to deal with such a material. As a worker how would you protect yourself when the filters on your respirator only filter to certain level far above what is being breathed. To give you a perspective the molecules that make up your DNA are at 2 nanometers. The carbon nano materials are at 1/20th of that. You see the problem there? First we have no way to protect workers from exposures to these materials other than totally sealed systems. But then there's the effects on human DNA and the environment. While we think of all the neat whiz bang products we could make from this technology we fail to see this long term.

We are already seeing just a few of the nasty effects of the use of these materials:

Some of the recently developed nanoparticle products may have unintended consequences. Researchers have discovered that silver nanoparticles used in socks only to reduce foot odor are being released in the wash with possible negative consequences. Silver nanoparticles, which are bacteriostatic, may then destroy beneficial bacteria which are important for breaking down organic matter in waste treatment plants or farms.

A study at the University of Rochester found that when rats breathed in nanoparticles, the particles settled in the brain and lungs, which led to significant increases in biomarkers for inflammation and stress response. A study in China indicated that nanoparticles induce skin aging through oxidative stress in hairless mice.

A two-year study at UCLA's School of Public Health found lab mice consuming nano-titanium dioxide showed DNA and chromosome damage to a degree "linked to all the big killers of man, namely cancer, heart disease, neurological disease and aging".

From personal experience the odor eating socks present problems later when the magic wears off and foot infections follow. Sun screens are another area to watch. You could protect yourself from the sun only to land up altering your DNA later. You could read the labels but better to keep abreast of what's going on from independent sources. Those TV ads wouldn't lie now would they?


Ranch Chimp said...

What an informative posting Demeur, very useful in other word's, since I'm dumb as a doorknob to alot of this. I did hear about the Nobel Prize winner's and an explanation of how simple they accidentally discovered this new carbon thing, and of course how great it will be, etc, etc ... thing's like airliner's being lighter etc. But I feel that there is also a flip side to everything as well. No ... of course these folk's wouldnt lie to us .... Um, um, um .... imagine that!

Randal Graves said...

I'm sure all the necessary safety precautions and legal regulations will be in place so some enterprising grad assistant won't be able to create his own army of diabolically-programmed nanobots that he unleashes on an unsuspecting college town until he and said army are whisked away in dead of night to the Pentagon where the next generation of combat gear is about to receive a technological shot in the arm.

The Blog Fodder said...

I've read about this stuff for a while but never even thought of the effects of breathing it in or absorbing in in any way. Good post. Thanks for the downside warning on the high tech..

BBC said...

For years I've been telling the youth in college that didn't have a clue yet what they wanted to be and do when they got out of college is that they should get into nanotechnology.

Someday, if we are still here that is, will all things will be built with nanotechnology.

S.W. Anderson said...

Something else to worry about, but yes, thanks for bringing it to our attention. More and more, "Better living through chemistry" becomes a macabre irony.

Just on the face of it, I would expect ordinary titanium dioxide to pose a danger to the electrochemistry that regulates the heart and circulatory system. But of course, who sprinkles the stuff on their morning cereal?

Silver nanoparticles in socks to fight odor. Wow, I had no idea. Seems like an inordinately pricey and complicated accommodation for people who need to wash their feet and change their socks every day, and maybe use non-nano Odor Eaters in their shoes.

I mean, come on. You can kill athlete's foot with a few exposures of radiation, but cheaper, much safer remedies are readily available.

I think people with nano consciences and dollar signs in their eyes are likely to do a lot of harm unless they are hit with some proactive oversight and bare-knuckles regulation soon.

Tim said...

This is another great post. You can't find this stuff just watching "The News" cause it isn't sexy.
Good one Demeur.

I'll stick with cotton...

Randal your scaring me again ;)