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Nanomaterials More Dangerous Than We Think 239

Posted by kdawson
from the common-sense dept.
bshell writes "A Canadian panel of leading scientists warns that nanomaterials appearing in a rapidly growing number of products might potentially be able to enter cells and interfere with biological processes. According to a story in the Globe and Mail, the Council of Canadian Academies concluded that 'there are inadequate data to inform quantitative risk assessments on current and emerging nanomaterials... Their small size, the report says, may allow them "to usurp traditional biological protective mechanisms" and, as a result, possibly have "enhanced toxicological effects."' The council is an independent academic advisory group funded by the federal government, but operating at arms-length from Ottawa. The 16-member panel that wrote the new report included some of Canada's leading scientists and top international experts on nanomaterials."
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Nanomaterials More Dangerous Than We Think

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  • Things like "grey goo" could never really happen.
    Hey, man, don't tell me how much dangerous I've thought nanomaterials are. This doesn't surprise me in the least.
    • Show me some research. Otherwise this is a bunch of pointless worrying, which is what it is at this point.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:58AM (#24152557)

        Most thought that radiation was harmless or even a cureall after it was first discovered. Dismiss the concern at your own risk.

        • by clonan (64380) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:21PM (#24153875)

          Radiation is extremly safe and it does cure many disease that have no alternative treatment. We are bathed in radiation at every second of every day with no ill effects but just like oxygen and water, in excess it will kill you very quickly. Just because it COULD kill you doesn't mean it is dangerous.

          If you RTFA you will find that they say nano could enter cells, could cause cancer, could disrupt cellular processes OR it could be perfectly harmless (as harmless as dirt) BUT there isn't enough information to tell.

          Personally I think the largest concern with nano is carbon nanotubes because they have the potential to cause the same problems as asbestos. But what is important is to do your due diligence and TEST anthing you want to sell.

          There is no reason to fear nano, only to be a little cautious.

          Using radiation

          • by Venik (915777)
            You are talking about radiation naturally occurring is small amounts that usually don't pose immediate threat to your health. However, the effect of radiation is cumulative, thus even moderate exposure to sunlight on a daily basis leads to increased risk of skin cancer. And then there are man-made disasters like Chernobyl, thousands of tons of radioactive waste, dozens of rusting nuclear submarines and so on. Being "a little cautious" may not be good enough. There already is a considerable body of research
            • by clonan (64380)

              From your examples you prove my point. It is the excess that will kill you.

              Remember, litterly everything kills you. Specific nano tech WILL be extremly toxic. Other nano tech will be less toxic than drinking clean water or eating organic food. However there will not be a general health or environmental threat from nano particles as a class of technology.

              As the ONLY group that has money, of course the consumers will pay for it. But will we pay for it up front? Will we pay for it through taxes? Will we

              • by Venik (915777)
                Asbestos was mentioned, which I think is a good example. Thousands of companies made billions of dollars since the late 1900s selling products made with this "miracle material". It wasn't until 1980s that research conclusively showed asbestos to be highly toxic even in very small amounts. For almost a hundred years consumers suffered from the health effects of asbestos, while manufacturers were making huge profits. Why did it take so long for the medical science to catch up? You can't expect manufacturers o
                • by clonan (64380) on Friday July 11, 2008 @03:41PM (#24156885)

                  Actually, Asbestos is a very safe material...it is only when it is powdered or otherwise disintegrated that it becomes dangerous. Asbestos is still used in most buildings. It is still common in household good...it is justcarefully controlled during application and removal.

                  The reason medical science took so long to catch up is because modern medical science was Invented After asbestos was first used. It wasn't till the 40's and 50's that medicine began to realize that disease can be caused by something other than bacteria.

                  Now we know better what to look for...while it is important to pay attention, we are much better off to spot a problem before it becomes an issue.

                  • by Venik (915777)
                    Yes, we are more advanced now and, hopefully, know better how to spot health risks. The question is: who is looking? Nanotechnology is quickly becoming a priority R&D direction for many large and small companies. However, there is no organized effort to study the effects of nanomaterials on our health.
              • I think the above posting was implying we will pay for learning the perils of nanotech with our health.

                Industry pushed asbestos into many, many applications and used for decades before the dangers of it were understood.

                I have a real concern that carbon nanotubes in particular may suffer from the same problems and will require good engineering to contain and mitigate the problems that MAY be present.

                I am not saying we shouldn't use nanotech, but the dangers of them must be understood BEFORE widespread

                • by clonan (64380)

                  I agree...however it is a technical impossibility to understand the issues BEFORE widespread use.

                  The reason is that most issues don't show up in everyone. Therefore the only way to understand the dangers is to deploy it widely. This isn't a problem so long as you do it smart and are cautious.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            And that's the same silly thinking that allows the drug companies to continue to produce and market and sell massive amounts of medications with more side affects than benefits. After all -- they're just side affects!!! Come on!
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by clonan (64380)

              :) I actually work for a drug company managing the regulations. Yes, most if not all drugs have more side effects than therapeutic effects. Any time you poke a complex system like your body you will probably mess up more things than you fix.

              The real question is...Are you happier and healthier despite the side effects? If the answer is yes than great, if the answer is no than ...STOP TAKING IT.

              You will NEVER get a drug that just fixes you and doesn't hurt you somewhere. The same is true of drinking, ea

          • by Obfuscant (592200) on Friday July 11, 2008 @03:19PM (#24156579)
            But what is important is to do your due diligence and TEST anthing you want to sell.

            That's true.

            However, there's the old adage that you cannot prove a negative. That is what current testing methods attempt to do. "This does not cause cancer..." "This drug has no serious side effects...".

            Unfortunately, some cancers take decades to show up, and some cancers are specific to humans and do not appear in the test subjects. And some cancers only show up in the test subjects when they are subjected to massive quantities of the material.

            The testing we have, for the most part, takes two forms. One is to (effectively) soak a mouse (or bacterial culture) in full-strength test material and see if it dies (or mutates). (Yes, that's a very simplified description.) If it doesn't, we go to human testing, which is highly statistical in nature simply because we cannot test everything on everyone, and we certainly cannot soak the new test subjects in 1000 times the normal dose just to see what happens. If a certain sample of people (very small) survives the test, we call it good.

            And then we wind up with recalls of really beneficial drugs because a small percentage of the population doesn't react well to them. The benefit to those it can help is ignored in the haste to protect the few who had a bad reaction. And, unfortunately, there will always be people who have a bad reaction to something, since there are so many people and so many ways a "bad reaction" can happen. Especially true when you consider that the drug is being given to people who are sick in some way to start with.

            There is no reason to fear nano, only to be a little cautious.

            I agree. Fear is useless. Caution is good. What level of caution is applied is the question.

            • by clonan (64380)

              I agree. Fear is useless. Caution is good. What level of caution is applied is the question.

              I'd say the same level as current products but include a test for lost particles. This is already done for most products so it really isn't a huge deal.

              If nano passes then same testing that drugs do, so you can prove that fewer than 1 in 100,000 people will have a sever problem, than I say go for it!

          • There is no reason to fear nano, only to be a little cautious.

            Note that "be a little cautious" implies the possibility of testing the stuff the way we test drugs. Which means a long time between development and use. Which can be expensive for a startup.

          • Radiation is extremly safe and it does cure many disease that have no alternative treatment. We are bathed in radiation at every second of every day with no ill effects but just like oxygen and water, in excess it will kill you very quickly

            So to recap your argument:
            Radiation is extremely safe, except when it's deadly. When it's deadly, then it's not extremely safe.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Show me research, that nanomaterials are safe. Otherwise we shouldn't allow them based on speculation that they are safe.

        Seriously, there has been some research and it's not looking like safe always is the answer.
        • by hey! (33014) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:34AM (#24153083) Homepage Journal

          Well, lets start with some plausible hypotheses as to how the materials might be unsafe, and then study those.

          Granted, there will be lots of media hysteria like there was in the case of the supposed cell phone/brain cancer link years ago, but that's inevitable. Since it's inevitable, we might as well proceed in the most epistemologically sound way. That would be to do our best to show that these materials are unsafe, then (hopefully) fail in each specific mechanism we can think of.

          Logically, you might claim that we're assuming that the materials are unsafe, but that's only as a null hypothesis regarding specific mechanisms. That's not the same as assuming the materials might be unsafe in some way which is beyond the capacity of human ingenuity to anticipate. That would not only bar trying anything new, it would also bar continuing anything we're already doing. For that matter, it also bars stopping anything we're already doing.

          • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:28PM (#24153997) Journal

            Well, lets start with some plausible hypotheses as to how the materials might be unsafe, and then study those.

            There are two things that make nano-[anything] problematic

            1. Our bodies are not designed to filter nano-sized particles

            2. nano-[anything] has vastly more surface area, which makes it much more reactive (ie possibly toxic) at lower concentrations.

            These are not hypotheses, they are facts. All that's left to study is which elements are toxic in nano-form and which aren't. And I'm personally much more comfortable with a default assumption of "unsafe" than the opposite.

            • by clonan (64380) on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:04PM (#24154521)

              #1 Not true! The actual environment that our cells operate on IS nano. Every crucial function in the body demands exceptionally tight control of structures much SMALLER than most nano-sized particles are likley to be

              #2 Completly true...which is a good thing. We are essentially bags of salty water with a lot of gunk like lipids and proteins lying around and a huge amount of free energy in constant use. We are potentially the most hostile environment a nano-particle is likley to encounter. The huge surface area means it is much more likley to get gummed up and inactivated almost immediatly causing no more harm than any other chemical you ingest.

              These are not hypothesis, they are facts. I am not suggesting there will be no harm but I am suggesting that there is no reason to think that nano-particles as a class will be more toxic than other classes of chmicals.

              • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:31PM (#24154865) Journal

                #1 Not true! The actual environment that our cells operate on IS nano. Every crucial function in the body demands exceptionally tight control of structures much SMALLER than most nano-sized particles are likley to be

                Maybe we're talking about different things.

                When I say that our bodies are not designed to filter nano-[anything] I meant the respiratory system and the circulatory system. Yes "The actual environment that our cells operate on IS nano" but most of the stuff floating around our bodies is micro-sized, not nano-sized and the body's defense system is setup to defend on that scale.

                • by clonan (64380)

                  The respiratory system is probably the most sensitive place. Personally I think that may be the only common health hazard (carbon nanotubes that act like asbestos). There is no direct evidence of this yet but it wouldn't surprise me.

                  But even the tiniest nano-particle is still going to be hundreds of atoms large simply to get the complexity necessary for something interesting to happen. The body routinely manipulates structures from 10 atoms up to hundreds of thousands of atoms (nucleotide base pairs up t

              • by giafly (926567)

                The huge surface area means it is much more likley to get gummed up and inactivated almost immediatly causing no more harm than any other chemical you ingest.

                Asbestosis is caused when asbestos fibres get gummed up in the lungs, to borrow your phrase, so it stands to reason that there's a potential risk from other nano particles.

                Asbestos contains tiny fibres of mineral silicates. People who have worked extensively with asbestos (for example, repairing boilers, demolishing buildings, and asbestos removal wo

              • "Ugly bags of mostly water".

                Seems I saw at least one study of carbon nanotubes in mice that showed that they were not problematic. And the summary's subject is, as usualy, misleadingly false. More true would be a headline "Nanomaterials Might Be More Dangerous Than We Think but then they might be safer".

            • by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:43PM (#24155053) Homepage Journal

              1. Our bodies are not designed to filter nano-sized particles

              Our bodies already seek and destroy viruses.

          • by Feanturi (99866) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:31PM (#24154043)

            It's easy to hypothesize how nanomaterials can be unsafe. All of biology works off of very tiny objects of specific shapes. These shapes allow different things to happen depending on how they fit each other, and where they fit, sort of like keys in locks. When making things of very small size we have to be careful about the shapes of these things, because we don't know what keyhole in a cell somewhere it might accidentally fit into, triggering some change in the cell that we don't know about due to not enough research.

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          "Show me research, that nanomaterials are safe. Otherwise we shouldn't allow them based on speculation that they are safe. "
          I can show you research that Oxygen, water, cars, airplanes, ships, trains, and fire are not safe.

          I am all for doing research to see what the dangers are but if you require any technology to be be proven safe then nothing will ever pass.
          You can not prove anything is "safe".

          • How about not being a pedant and realizing that although you can't prove anything absolutely safe, you can do some basic due diligence to show that it's not horribly toxic.

            Do you want to be the guy that gets the first new thalidomide baby? If there were any justice in the world, people like you, who claim we don't need to test new technology to determine what damage it might cause, should be the ones to suffer.

            • by LWATCDR (28044)

              Get thanks what a nice fellow you are.
              And a nutter that can not read to boot.
              Your statment.. "you can do some basic due diligence to show that it's not horribly toxic."

              And from my post.
              "I am all for doing research to see what the dangers are but if you require any technology to be be proven safe then nothing will ever pass.
              You can not prove anything is "safe"."

              Gee it seems like I am actually all for due diligence. Just not for absolute proof of absolute safety which you can never achieve.

              It is my hope that

              • by spun (1352)

                Backtrack all you like. Lets look over your post, shall we, and see what we can see?

                "Show me research, that nanomaterials are safe. Otherwise we shouldn't allow them based on speculation that they are safe. "
                I can show you research that Oxygen, water, cars, airplanes, ships, trains, and fire are not safe.
                I am all for doing research to see what the dangers are but if you require any technology to be be proven safe then nothing will ever pass.
                You can not prove anything is "safe".

                You were trying to refute someone who simply asked that research be done to show a product is safe. You say that products can not be proven safe. You recommend researching for dangers, now what would it show if there were no dangers? It would show that the product is safe.

                It really sounds like you are advocating for a very low standard of proof, the very same low standard that allowed horrible calamities like thalidomide to

        • by russotto (537200)

          Show me research, that nanomaterials are safe. Otherwise we shouldn't allow them based on speculation that they are safe.

          Take your Precautionary Principle, fold it until it is all corners, and shove it where the sun don't shine. That reasoning will lead to absolutely nothing being allowed. You can't prove that something is safe. At best, you can show that a particular hazard has a fairly low chance of occurring. But there's always another possible hazard someone can think of not covered by previous rese

      • by mapsjanhere (1130359) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:10AM (#24152737)
        try

        A Review of Carbon Nanotube Toxicity and Assessment of Potential Occupational and Environmental Health Risks

        Lam, Chiu-wing; James, John; McCluskey, Richard; Arepalli, Sivaram; Hunter, Robert

        Critical Reviews in Toxicology, Volume 36, Number 3, May-June 2006 , pp. 189-217(29)
      • by RustinHWright (1304191) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:24AM (#24152943) Homepage Journal
        To quote from TFA:
        Typical of the research was a report earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found when nano-sized particles were given with chemotherapy, doses of the anticancer drug could be cut by about 95 per cent, without any reduction in therapeutic effect.

        But the new report recommended that, given that the impact of nanomaterials on living things is "poorly understood,"...

        I don't know about you but if my biochemistry teacher hammered anything into us it was two interrelated concepts:
        - Just about everything in the human body runs off fewer than twenty mechanisms and these same mechanisms are used over and over to do many different things.
        - All of these mechanisms are interconnected. You change how one is working and you'll affect at least two or three.
        Let me add a third: when you massively change the strength of a reagent, you change what it does. Dilute hydrogen peroxide is a useful and safe antiseptic. Increase the concentration twenty times and you have a rocket fuel that melts your flesh.

        If any approach makes some approach twenty times as powerful then it is doing other things, too. Count on it. We've seen this over and over, from birth control pills to heart medication.
        • by HBI (604924)

          The most likely things, I think, would go along the lines of asbestos-related illnesses. It's a foreign substance being added to the body that in many cases is inorganic or not biologically active. Yes, it could cause harm. Maybe it doesn't. Who knows, without research? Why worry if you don't know the result?

          If we made every new product go through a massive testing regimen before it was deployed, we'd see no new products for many years. This is one reason why, even with fast tracking the drugs in ques

          • by Muad'Dave (255648)
            My fear would be that nanoparticles of the exact wrong shape lodge themselves into an important neurotransmitter receptor and cause havoc in the brain or even possibly death by blocking the activity of the neurotransmitter or continuously firing the receptor. Same goes for liver receptors, etc.

            I wouldn't want any of my receptors, anywhere, getting jammed up up with inert junk.

          • Please go back and read what I wrote. Some nanoparticles are anything but "inert".
            Why worry? Because without a lot of testing things like this [newscientist.com] can happen. I guarantee that if YOU were the one dying of multiple organ failure from a supposedly safe new drug, you would be just a little miffed that they hadn't tested it more.
      • by Ash Vince (602485) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:35PM (#24154105) Journal

        Show me some research.

        Would you understand it?

        I spent a bit of time studying Nanotech at uni while reading Physics. I am hopelessly out of date now and I would probably barely understand it, especially as this involves the intersection of Physics with Biology.

        I am fairly astounded you can be as arrogant as to dismiss on going research by various universities as "pointless worrying" just because they have not finished it yet. Research is often fairly talked about in academic circles long before it is published.

        This also reminds me of asbestos. It was known to be potentially harmful for a great many years in academic circles long before it was proved to be harmful. Since I know of people who died of asbestosis I have a little more time for this sort of research being discussed long before a link has been thoroughly proven beyond all scientific doubt.

        I can quite easily see how another extremely fine particle similar to asbestos fibre that has never existed naturally in any quantity could have the potential for serious harm if inhaled, swallowed or placed in contact with the skin. The scale of nanotech particles means they could quite easily become airborne if not handled carefully.

      • by Pigeon451 (958201)
        Cells will "eat" gold nanorods. What are the implications of ingesting these things? Surely having an abnormal amount of metal material inside a cell of microscopic proportions will have some effect on it. I've seen cells gobble up the nanorods, very interesting. They're so small they go right through the cellular membrane. What are the implications of other types of nanomaterials?

        Do a search, there's tons of journal articles out there.

      • by raddan (519638)
        Which part of "there are inadequate data to inform quantitative risk assessments" do you not understand? Saying "be careful, we don't know what this can do" is quite different from saying "omg teh goo!" Would you rather these people experiment on the general population first?
      • I used to think like you, then I saw this shocking video [google.com] that changed my mind.
      • Show me some research.

        That's the entire point of the panel. The question they were asked was is there any published study that shows these materials are safe? And the panel correctly said there aren't *any* studies on the materials' safety -- meaning they can't tell you anything about the materials, and neither can anyone else right now.

        Otherwise this is a bunch of pointless worrying, which is what it is at this point.

        Ignorance is bliss?

      • Like this [eurekalert.org], for example? Nano structures have interesting and useful properties; some of those are likely to interact in various ways with biological "nano" structures.
    • I'm really interested in why you say "grey goo" could never really happen. I don't know much/anything about nanoengineering, but I'm aware of "grey goo" and I'd like to know why you said that. Is it an energy issue?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905)
        1) Energy and resource limits.

        Bacteria and fungi are the equivalent of grey goo. In a way they are everywhere, and if left alone they will eventually gobble up much of the stuff - plastic, wood, even some (most?) metals.

        But there are limitations of what they can do. Nanotech grey goo isn't going to turn the earth to a huge blob of grey goo. If it were so easy some bacteria would have done it years ago.

        The goo will need a source of energy and materials to build copies. Say you have a metal based goo, no matt
    • by Is0m0rph (819726)
      Well I've seen some stuff in the back my fridge before and can attest that "grey goo" can happen back there in lost Tupperware containers.
  • Oh and fields from electric razors... and radioactive materials from nuclear tests...

    We have to live with the fact that many things natural and unnatural effect us every day, and with due diligence even the most harmful of materials can be useful. What if it's ability to enter cells and "to usurp traditional biological protective mechanisms" is precicely what we need to cure AIDS, cancer, and every other ailment mankind faces from natural threats that definitely can "usurp ... protective mechanisms"?

    Jonah
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Alright I'll say what everyone is thinking:

      Asbestos

      That one material and the resulting deaths are why nano-anything is scary nowadays.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Asbestos is actually a great example, as there was only one specific kind that really did the damage most people think of, and the rest was hand waving similar to this. It just worked due to fears of the Jury easily being mislead by information they do not understand, which is why most of the "wins" are settelments.

        • by Jonah Hex (651948)
          I'll give a quick personal experience opinion on this...

          Great Grandmother worked at McCord Gasket during WWII era, total 15+ years on the job. She described how the "girls" would be covered head to toe in asbestos dust during the workday, they wore simple paper masks when needed due to the quantity of dust in the air. Neither her or anyone she knew had medical problems from the type of asbestos used.

          Jonah HEX
    • What if it's ability to enter cells and "to usurp traditional biological protective mechanisms" is precicely what we need to cure AIDS, cancer, and every other ailment mankind faces from natural threats that definitely can "usurp ... protective mechanisms"?

      Great, then we can make powerful drugs with nanoparticles. But that just reinforces the point that maybe we should think twice before going along with current trends, such as liberally slathering nanoparticle-laced sunscreen on ourselves.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:55AM (#24152501)

    In the US, we all count on GM agriculture to provide us with cheap and plentiful fruits and vegetables as well as provide feed grain for our chemically-enhanced cows and chickens. Genetic manipulation provides us with our way of life and for the most part we are happily accepting of it.

    In other parts of the world, this type of "frankenscience" makes people uncomfortable. There is a strong pushback against GM crops because for all the benefits of them, the drawbacks are as yet unknown.

    Should we plow ahead with these new technologies, or should we move as slowly as possible to delay unwanted contamination? We can create test groups and phased deployments of these new products, but there is no good plan for widespread deployment that takes into account both the safety of the product users as well as exposing them to potential dangers against their will. Either we sell technologically-improved products, or we don't.

    Which is the right mindset?

    • by RustinHWright (1304191) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:10AM (#24152713) Homepage Journal
      You are presently two extremes as if they were the only options.
      EITHER "plow ahead" OR "move as slowly as possible". This is a false set of choices. When you're walking down the street are your only choices to either run as fast as you can or move as slowly as possible?
      To say that greater oversight makes sense is very different from "as slowly as possible". At this point we know that GM crops are interbreeding with non-GM crops. At the very least this is being used as yet another front in the We-own-your-life-through-controlling-your-IP war. Farmers who not only didn't want GM crops but actively tried to avoid them are being sued because seeds have blown across the plains and corporations are demanding payment for the resulting plants. Does this seem like grounds for investigation to you? It sure does to me.
      There are dozens of these issues, if not many more. And, on top of everything else, after a quarter century of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush, our regulators themselves are long overdue for more transparency. After all, Tyson Chicken was one of Bill Clinton's biggest campaign supporters and if you think that didn't affect the way his people dealt with this kind of thing then you haven't been paying attention. Not to mention the waves of junk science that the EPA and other government agencies have been subjected to from their own politically-appointed bosses since Dubya took office.
      Should we huddle in a corner and live on raw twigs? No. Should we let anybody do anything anywhere anytime? Also no. But there is a middle ground and that is where we should be.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)

        I didn't mention the IP ramifications of GM crops because they are completely irrelevant to their safety and not germane to this conversation.

        There are only two choices when it comes to GM crops. The choice to use them or the choice to eschew them. At the consumer level, there is almost no chance to exercise choice at all since there is no way to determine whether a product contains GM components or not. The only possible leverage a consumer has is to purchase expensive organic products, but that is only po

        • by NiceGeek (126629)

          Speak for yourself. I go out of my way to avoid GM foods, and try to purchase goods from local farmers where at all possible. Not all of us are idiots.

        • Maybe not at all, but maybe horrifically, maybe somewhere in between (Olestra?).

          Since when does anal leakage not count as a horrific side effect for a food additive?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tom (822)

      Which is the right mindset?

      Why has there got to be one "right" mindset? The world is large enough for more than one approach. If the US wants to test every new technology irrespective of the risks, let them reap the benefits - and pay the price if there is danger. More conservative regions of the planet can at the same time hold back, avoiding both the risks and the benefits of early adopters.

      Why insist on experting your mindset instead of letting other people simply keep theirs?

      • by Qzukk (229616)

        Why has there got to be one "right" mindset?

        Because in order to do that we'd have to use labeling laws so that everyone can use their own mindset instead of thinking whatever the companies want them to think.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)

        This is why I believe that there are only two choices. One to embrace technology and one to take a wait and see attitude. There is no way to embrace the new technologies without simultaneously exposing all the consumers of it to the risks, with disregard for their will, I might add. And there is no way to take a wait and see attitude without something to wait for. A wait and see attitude without taking any action results in deadlock, so it requires someone, somewhere deploy the technology.

        The first choice p

        • Everything has risks. You (the generic you) walk from your apartment to your car every day, despite the risk of an airplane falling on your head and killing you. It is possible to test for reasonable risks and take reasonable safety precautions without dragging scientific progress to a halt.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FeatureBug (158235)
      The thing is GM agriculture does not provide cheap and plentiful fruits and vegetables.

      First of all, there are no GM fruits grown on a commercial scale in the US. There are only a few different GM vegetables grown commercially in the US.

      Secondly, US and EU farming enterprises both get huge subsidies from their respective governments. US and EU farming enterprises both generate huge surpluses of food and wine. US farming enterprises pay large amounts to Monsanto for rights to use GM seeds. EU farming enter

  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:00AM (#24152587)

    wouldn't we have evolved defences?

    also, and related, the following, by John C. Monica, 2007.

    The distinction between "engineered," "incidental," and "natural" nanoparticles is beginning to blur. A vocal contingent advocates regulation of the first category without much focus on the later two. We recently asked whether this distinction is meaningful for certain EHS purposes. The human body may not differentiate between exposure to the three categories of materials. On the other hand, it makes sense to be concerned with reducing man-made risks first.

    Here is a related question: What happens to this definitional scheme when naturally occurring nanomaterials (ex/ carbon nanotubes and fibers) are harvested/mined and then used for commercial purposes? While they are not "man-made" in the traditional sense, they presumably pose the same exposure risks as engineered nanomaterials created in a lab. The industry is currently exploring cheaper ways to mass-produce nanomaterials. Consequently, we will undoubtedly see more "natural" nanomaterials being used in commercial applications. This issue merits serious consideration in any attempt to regulate nanotechnology and/or create uniform standards and nomenclature.

    "Engineered" = purposefully created; man-made. "Incidental" = unintentionally created; by-product of human activity. "Natural" = found in nature; volcanic rock; smoke.

    • One word, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.
    • by Goldsmith (561202) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:37AM (#24153119)

      Why is it someone on Slashdot can understand this, but no one on this Canadian blue ribbon panel was able to make that connection?

      "Nano" is a new prefix, which is commonly applied to old materials. There's nothing inherently evil about small particles, they do occur in nature. If a new material comes along using nanotech, it should be subject to testing just like any other new material. If an old material (like titanium dioxide) has been tested for decades, and now gets the "nano" label, we need to understand that marketing spin does not change the chemical or physical properties of a material.

      • by tsm_sf (545316)
        Because it's a foolish argument. "Why are we concerned with my attack robot when there are bears and sharks in the wild?" I mean come on.
    • by Lust (14189)

      I loved your comment and agree completely. This knee-jerk reaction most people have towards nanomaterials (which have existed in some form since the Big Bang) reminds me of a similar reaction people have against "chemicals" in food vs. "natural" products, as if nature in incapable of producing its own toxins.

    • by Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:55AM (#24153403)

      Health risks are going to be identical no matter how you categorize a material.

      Consider asbestos. Asbestos particles are certainly very similar in many respects to some of the engineered nanomaterials. If I manufacture artificial asbestos, it will have the same toxology as 'natural' asbestos.

      The meaningful question in my mind is 'Is there a significant source of natural exposure to material X?' If so then we would be reasonably justified in making the assumption that similar exposure to the same material from man made sources will have similar effects, and we also have grounds for making a default assumption that the human body can tolerate the material to a certain extent.

      However it seems to me that there are or will be a large class of nanomaterials which are substantially different from anything found in nature. It would seem prudent to study the toxicity of such materials carefully before they see wide use.

      Personally I don't see a close correspondence between GMOs and nanomaterials. GMOs incorporate genetic elements which are already found naturally in a variety of organisms. Furthermore even if we designed some 'artificial genes' the proteins expressed via those genes are not going to be radically different from those found in existing organisms. Obviously such a protein would need to be tested for toxicity, but it would be no more likely to be hazardous than one isolated from a natural source.

      To my mind the majority of the fears the public has about GMOs are largely unfounded. There are various issues, but it is far more tenable to believe GMOs are largely benign than it would be to believe that nanomaterials are. Thus a stance of 'GMOs are safe unless proven otherwise' is not unreasonable, but a similar stance with regard to nanomaterials probably is not.

      So my opinion would be that engineered nanomaterials should be studied for biological effects before widespread commercial deployment. That might not be necessary for certain limited engineering uses, but we SHOULD be reasonably cautious. If you want to sell me a consumer good which contains engineered nanomaterials, they should require review and approval in some fashion similar to the rules in place for potentially toxic chemicals. And those rules themselves probably require beefing up.

      The other issue that has never been addressed with any types of materials is synergistic effects. Any given material might be safe in and of itself, but in the real world we get exposed to a 'soup' of compounds and materials every day. Seems to me the major thing we should all be worried about is just how thick does that broth get before we're done in by the entirely unknown and unforeseen interactions between them?

    • by bugnuts (94678) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:24PM (#24153925) Journal

      Here is a related question: What happens to this definitional scheme when naturally occurring nanomaterials (ex/ carbon nanotubes and fibers) are harvested/mined and then used for commercial purposes? While they are not "man-made" in the traditional sense, they presumably pose the same exposure risks as engineered nanomaterials created in a lab.

      Asbestos fibers occur naturally. Mercury occurs naturally. Lead occurs naturally.

      Why are all those regulations out there for natural things? Naturally-occurring means it's good for you, right? We have evolved defenses! Your lead cannot harm me, I'm bulletproof! ...

      See the problem with that argument? Mercury didn't kill people, until it was dumped into drinking water by irresponsible companies primarily because no regulations were in place. Lead didn't kill anyone, until it was used in cars and leached into ground water (although the current additives aren't much better).

      If we wait for catastrophes to regulate/monitor/study something we know is dangerous, we're simply repeating historical ignorance.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        Mercury didn't kill people, until it was dumped into drinking water by irresponsible companies primarily because no regulations were in place.

        Oh? Never heard the saying "mad as a hatter [worldwidewords.org]"?

        Lead didn't kill anyone, until it was used in cars and leached into ground water (although the current additives aren't much better).

        Oh? The preponderance of historical evidence [wikipedia.org] says otherwise.

    • > Nano materials occur in nature, wouldn't we have evolved defences?

      Hemlock, uranium, asbestos, bears, magma, and asteroids also occur in nature.

  • by xpuppykickerx (1290760) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:09AM (#24152711)
    we better start developing organic weapons that the machine can't take control of.
  • by Taibhsear (1286214) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:35AM (#24153091)

    "A Canadian panel of leading scientists warns that nanomaterials appearing in a rapidly growing number of products might potentially be able to enter cells and interfere with biological processes... Their small size, the report says, may allow them "to usurp traditional biological protective mechanisms" and, as a result, possibly have "enhanced toxicological effects." The 16-member panel that wrote the new report included some of Canada's leading scientists and top international experts on nanomaterials."

    Ok, that's a lot of ifs and maybes. How about you do the testing before adamantly stating that "Nanomaterials More Dangerous Than We Think." And how about more than 16 people, not all of which are scientists and experts on nanomaterials, actually chime in on this.

  • Warning! (Score:5, Funny)

    by pxc (938367) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:47AM (#24153267)

    Contains small parts. Keep away from children.

  • Stephenson - Again (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pragma_x (644215) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:23PM (#24153887) Journal

    In the Diamond Age, Neil Stephenson already touched on this very concept.

    http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=245 [technovelgy.com]

    A mark of a good writer is that he or she not only creates a new world, but also takes the time to "age" it a little. The use of the word "toner," which most of us recognize from our experience with copying machines and printers, conjures up an image of a very fine black dust.

    The "mites" referred to in the following excerpt are nanomachines the same size as dust mites.

    "See, there's mites around all the time. They use sparkles to talk to each other," Harv explained. "They're in the food and water, everywhere. And there's rules that these mites are supposed to follow. They're supposed to break down into safe pieces... But there are people who break those rules [so the] Protocol Enforcement guys make a mite to go out and find that mite and kill it. This dust - we call it toner - is actually the dead bodies of all those mites.

    IIRC, Harv isn't doing well in this particular scene since he's trying to explain why he's hacking up a lung after being outside for a little while.

  • Contradiction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Woundweavr (37873) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:33PM (#24154075)

    "Nanomaterials More Dangerous Than We Think" seems to directly contradict "there are inadequate data to inform quantitative risk assessments on current and emerging nanomaterials." At most it would seem "Nanomaterials May Possibly Be Dangerous"

  • I don't think Aubrey de Grey [slashdot.org] will live to see it, let alone me, but I can see a time when we will have nanorobots repairing our bodies cell by cell. Imagine figuring out how to put telomeraise back into chromosomes without causing cancer!

    In fact I can see a time when everything you use will be made of interlocking nanorobots. No death, no want, in fact it may well be that we discover a way to reanimate formerly living cells; you will have all of the biblical prophesies of heaven on earth come true, thanks t

  • Consumer Reports [consumerreports.org] had an article on this a year ago.
  • Why is this flagged as "greygoo"? The grey goo scenario [wikipedia.org] involves self-replicating nanites consuming the planet. What the article is talking about is a more mundane concern about toxicity.
  • I read the article (Score:3, Insightful)

    by holophrastic (221104) on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:16PM (#24160497)

    Being Canadian, I'm proud of my Canada -- but not for this stupid article. I'll summarize for you:
    Q: What do we know about these materials?
    A: Very little.

    That's the whole article. Scientists didn't take a nanomaterial and find something wrong with one type. Scientists looked for research that had already been done, and found that none had been done.

    Well congratulations on the newspaper article reading "Today, no one discovered anything.". Now that's a front-page headline!

No hardware designer should be allowed to produce any piece of hardware until three software guys have signed off for it. -- Andy Tanenbaum

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