Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Truth About Nanoparticles

The following is a copy of an email that I sent to Popular Science in response to an article they printed in their January 2007 issue.

Dear Editor,

This email is in response to "The Truth About Nanoparticles" in your January 2007 edition.

Your simplistic treatment of a complex and controversial topic is unfortunate. Given the rate at which nanoparticles are being introduced into everyday products, and the rate at which that use is expected to grow, it would be most beneficial to give this topic in-depth coverage.

As to the actual article, I was left asking "What truth?" The title suggests that some "truth" will be revealed. All I saw was a collection of sound bites, some of which are inaccurate. The basic truth regarding the potential toxicity of nanoparticles is "We don't know everything we need to know, yet. The alarm has been sounded, and we are looking into it, in many labs and by many governments agencies." (Whether that research will be enough only time will tell, but it absolutely needs to be done.)

One particular inaccuracy that could have been (should have been) caught is the reference to Magic Nano. A quick search on Google would have informed the writer that Magic Nano contains no nanoparticles.

If you decide to include my comments, feel free to use my name.


Rocky Rawstern

What I did not say, and will elaborate on here, is that articles like this only serve to confuse an already confusing issue; namely the potential toxicity of nanoparticles. Confusion, and subsequent hysteria, could result in harsh and restrictive regulations, which themselves could lead to a drying up on investment capital and withholding of beneficial products.

While I do not advocate putting any new technology into production without prior research into potential negative side effects, I do believe that early-stage research into toxicity, coupled with reasonable safeguards and regulations will suffice to insure that new particles are not a health hazard. I would also point out that for many nanoparticles (*), existing regulations and safeguards effectively protect factory workers and consumers.

And regarding the author’s bit on buckminster-fullerene and fish, one need look no further than two excellent articles by Howard Lovy to gain an insight into that emotionally-charged topic. Read them here, and take a look at the survey I conducted in that same report.

(*) Primarily those that are embedded in the product and not likely to become separate from it.