The UK’s The Guardian broadly reviews the on-going debate surrounding nanotechnology—namely, whether the benefits offered by nanotech materials outweigh the risks to the environment and to humans. The article juxtaposes the uncertainty surrounding the risks of nanotech materials with its positive potential. For instance,“[i]n the medical arena, nano-robots could be programmed to repair damaged cells and mimic our own natural healing processes,” or for the environment, “the effects of man on the environment could be halted and reversed through nano filters designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
As The Guardian notes, the properties that make nanotechnology beneficial may be the exact properties that create the risk: "[a]s chemical substances get smaller, their behaviours and characteristics may change, with certain nanomaterials possessing properties not found in their bulk counterparts… the novel properties that nanomaterials can possess give rise to new forms of risk." It is the uncertainty that makes the nanotechology debate important at this time, particularly since there are already "1000 nanotechnology enhanced products on the market" currently:
Potential risks from nano are both unknown and unknowable. Unknown because little risk assessment has take place to date (less than 2% of the money being poured into nano research is devoted to risk analysis) and unknowable because scientific expertise in chemical assessment has not kept pace with scientific expertise in nanotechnology. Put simply, we are not currently capable of testing all of the inherent properties of all nanomaterials.
For this reason, comparisons between asbestos and nanotechnology run rampant. According to the article, the first asbestos mines opened in Quebec in 1874. Asbestos was widely used by various industries by the 1950’s. While some concerns about the safety of asbestos were first noted as early as 1900, it was not for many years until asbestos came under any real scrutiny for being connected to any health concerns. The uncertainty of the risks surrounding nanotechnology will most likely lead to increased government regulation in the very near future—particularly, if the government does not believe that the nanotech industry is proactively assessing the risk of its own products.
The article ends with an open question to consumers:
Simply ask yourself this question: when was the last time you ever picked up your body wash in the shower and scrutinised the ingredients list? And, even if you did notice "(nano)" next to an ingredient, what would that mean to you: a warning as to possible side effects? A selling point as to unique properties? Something else?
The Boulder business lawyers at Laszlo & Associates, LLC provide legal counsel to businesses on a variety of business needs including products liability, risk management, corporate protection and legal compliance.