Report: We Don't Know Enough About Nanotech Safety
Some brands of cleaning sprays, sunscreens and burger boxes include nano-size material in them.
Nanotech is present in food additives, sunscreens, stain-resistant clothes and solar cells. In the future, we'll find nano-size particles—tiny materials that are 1/1,000th the diameter of a human hair or smaller—in the material that makes up batteries, cars, drugs and disease screenings. The National Academy of Science expects the market for nano products to "explode" over the next few years, generating $3 billion in sales by 2015, after the field already sold $1 billion worth of products in 2009.
Yet we don't know enough about how nano stuff may affect people's health or the environment, found a new report by the academy. In particular, there's little progress in understanding how eating foods with nanoparticles in them might affect human health.
As yet, there's no evidence that nanomaterial causes disease in people, said nanotech safety researcher Vincent Castranova in a Q&A with InnovationNewsDaily. But researchers suspect nanotech may cause some distinctive problems. "If you make particles very, very small, they have unique physical and chemical characteristics and the question is, 'Will you also have unique biological interaction?'" Castranova said. "And there's no reason to suspect you wouldn't." He was not involved in the National Academy report.
The report suggests a new national research group dedicated to studying nanotech's safety and environmental effects. The United States does have a National Nanotechnology Initiative, but its job is to promote nanotechnology as a way to improve the economy. Its interests could conflict with assessing nanotech's risks, the report said, so the United States needs a separate agency.