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The Dark Side of Nanotechnology, and How it Can Hurt Your Health

Nanotech is advancing upon us at warp speed. An estimated 140 companies are now producing nano particles in powders, sprays and coatings that are being used in a variety of products, including sunscreens, automobile parts, tennis rackets, scratch-proof eye glasses, stain-repellent fabrics, self-cleaning windows and more.

While I am a major fan of the benefits that nanotechnology will provide, it is becoming very clear that there are a large number of potentially serious downsides.

Anytime one introduces never-before-seen materials into existence one needs to be concerned about potential health side effects. Nano materials are no exception.

One of the most important characteristics of nano particles is their huge surface-to-volume ratio. The smaller something is, the larger its surface area is in comparison to its volume. Because nano particles are so small, they have an enormous surface area, relative to their volume.

This large surface of nano particles offers an ideal place for metals and pollutants to attach and thus cause the formation of free radicals with subsequent cell damage or cell death, followed by inflammation. While nanotech is new, materials this size are not. It turns out that we already have a fair amount of data on the dangers of airborne nano particles--but researchers don't call them nano particles. They call them ultrafines.

Scientists have known for more than a decade that fine and ultrafine particles in the air create haze and kill large numbers of humans. Fines and ultrafines are produced by fossil-fuel power plants, incinerators, cement kilns and diesel engines, among other sources. Expert researchers have estimated that fine particles are killing 60,000 people each year in the United States.

I am certain we will see more of these effects in the future, and it is important to recognize that they are possible. September 4, 2003

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