NANO-SAFETY [08 October 2007]
Safety – paramount in the workplace and the environment—is especially important for developments in nano- technology, in which case material properties may be completely unknown. NANO-SAFETY requires many things: knowledge of effects, understanding of particle behavior, toxic effects depending on the application, re- sidual impact on the environment, etc. The areas of understanding can be characterized in a number of catego- ries, which include: 1) Material Properties; 2) Impact on People and the Environment; 3) Handling of Nanomate- rials; and 4) Business Focus.
Material Properties: Obviously, one aspect is the development of an understanding of the properties of all the materials, a situation complicated by the lack of availability of metrology tools. A more funda- mental question is what properties should be investigated. If the starting point is to ensure an under- standing of the impact of the nanomaterials on people and the environment, then investigations can be focused on material properties within the expected operational parameters, like room temperature, atmospheric pressures, etc. Understanding the properties is necessary before it is possible to under- stand their impact.
Impact on People and the Environment: Another aspect is a greater understanding of the impact of na- nomaterials on the human body. For instance, significant advances are being made in the treatment of cancer by employing customized molecules that incorporate nanoparticles and deliver them to cancer- ous sites. These specialized molecules either deliver specific chemicals or other material like gold or carbon nanotubes to the site requiring treatment. The chemicals will react with the cancer and begin destroying it. The other materials can be heated by many different methods and destroy the cancerous cells through the elevated temperatures. These approaches promise significant advances in treatment of diseases; however, the long-term impact on the body is under investigation and no definitive answers exist.
Handling of Nanomaterials: The question of handling and storing Nanomaterials is important from both the implications for the people involved and the impact on the environment. Yet, without any know- ledge of the basic properties, the extent of the precautions required is unknown. One always wants to err on the side of safety, but potentially onerous procedures, based on worst-case scenarios, will dimi- nish the progress being made in applying nanotechnology to everyday problems. Procedures are re- quired based on fundamental evaluations and historical efforts.
Business Focus: The business aspect is important. Given the fact that businesses need to protect their workers as well as their corporate liability, they need to operate according to established guidelines. These guidelines do not exist! Consequently, there is the potential for significant corporate liability.
NANO-SAFETY is not something that will come into place before there is a need, since the need is today. The application of nanomaterials has been happening for some time. Unlike earlier times in history when people simply proceeded and ignored the consequences, today’s environment requires that people and organizations be responsible for their actions. Action is required now!
Copyright 2007, Walt Trybula & Texas State University
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