NANO-SAFETY [08 October 2007]
ple, consider only one of the properties that are “known.” The melting point of a metal is a constant at a given pressure. Gold, for example, melts at 1064.18oC at standard pressure. This property, the melting point, has been employed for hundreds of years to process gold into various products. However, nanoparticle gold has a reduced melting point as compared with the bulk property. As the size of the particle drops below 12nm, the melting point starts to decrease and eventually drops below 500oC. This decrease in melting point is only one of the properties of nanoparticles; unfortunately, exact data do not exist on all the properties of nanoparticles. One of the reasons for this lack of data is the lack of metrology equipment that can provide accurate measure- ments for all properties. Another reason is the lack of a coordinated program to determine these “new” proper- ties. Until the material properties are determined, each specific issue raised will need to be addressed indivi- dually. This situation of constantly needing to determine the specific properties of interest will cause many problems and the wasted effort of repeated determination of values. The systematic approach addresses the resolution of properties in the nano realm as a coordinated effort to determine the actual values only once.
There are three issues that summarize the concerns: 1) The knowledge of the nanoparticle properties and con- sequently their behavior is unknown and needs to be determined. The task of protecting people from the con- sequences of interaction with nanoparticles that could be harmful is challenging based on existing knowledge. 2) Nevertheless, people and the environment need to be protected, a fact that requires an effort to evaluate what exists today, what is missing and needs to be developed, and how to initiate safety procedures based on today’s knowledge. Improvements to the procedures will be made as new information becomes available. 3) Efforts are needed to create an environment where both people and the environment are protected.
These three issues create a fundamental problem addressed by NANO-SAFETY: How does one ensure that both people and the environment will be protected from materials employed in nanotechnology products when the actual properties of materials change based on the size, and the capability of measuring the materials to the re- quired accuracy is not available? Another part of the concern is the lack of definition on what properties need to be identified, quantified, and reported on. Statements are being made, as indicated earlier, regarding specific concerns about nano, which are based on some facts but, in reality, based more on conjecture and speculation. This conjuncture—based on limited information, postulated as facts in published and broadcast media—gives a misleading impression to the general public. This fear-based approach is good for increasing revenue based on viewers or readers, but has the potential to inhibit the insertion of truly beneficial products.
A number of medical investigations are underway that promise novel methods for fighting cancer, but the so- cietal impact of the development has not been addressed. For example, what will happen when a procedure or material is developed for eliminating a certain type of cancer and then someone discovers that it is detrimental to the environment?
While many researchers are working on various issues regarding the effects of nanomaterials, a scientifically neutral, comprehensive effort is not being made to identify, quantify, and collect all the pertinent information as it becomes available. Focused, published research that develops facts will provide some counter to claimed danger from nanotechnology if the effort is part of an overall investigation to determine the fundamental prop- erties of the nanomaterials and how they interact with people and the environment.
Copyright 2007, Walt Trybula & Texas State University
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