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The Dark Side of Nanotechnology

I have been an ardent fan of nanotechnology and believe it has tremendous potential to advance our society. However, like many new technologies its long-term consequences on our health have not yet been adequately examined. Take the experience of researchers at DuPont, who are testing microscopic tubes of carbon, known as nanotubes, valued for their extraordinary strength and electrical conductivity. When the researchers injected nanotubes into the lungs of rats in the summer of 2002, the animals unexpectedly began gasping for breath. Fifteen percent of them quickly died.

Early research has raised other troubling issues. Researchers found evidence that the cells that break down foreign particles in rodent lungs have more trouble detecting and handling nanoparticles than larger particles that have long been studied by air pollution experts. No one has yet created a realistic test for the effects of inhaled nanoparticles; such a test could easily cost more than $1 million to design and carry out. This is a signficant issue because the federal government projects that sales of products based on nanotechnology will reach $1 trillion by 2015.

New York Times November 3, 2003

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