Minnesota scientist calls for more research into nanotech worker safety

Canary in the coal mine: Is that a nanotech worker in the cage?
Canary in the coal mine: Is that a nanotech worker in the cage?

Pui and Maynard don't want our future nanotech workers to be canaries in the coal mine.

University of Minnesota scientist David Y.H. Pui teamed up with Andrew Maynard, the Science Advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, to call for more research into the safety of those who work in the field of nanotechnology. Their comments were published in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research.

Nanotechnology allows us to manipulate materials at the atomic and molecular scale, a billions of times smaller than a meter. But what does this mean for the lab and factory workers who will build these new materials? "Workers are society's canaries-in-the-coal mines when it comes to the environmental, health and safety effects of new materials--and nanoscale materials are no different," said Maynard.

People are researching the safety of nanotech manufacturing, but it isn't enough. According to Maynard, "little is known about potential risks in many areas of nanotechnology--and funding for risk-focused research is a small fraction of the nearly $10 billion spent annually by governments and industry on nanotechnology commercial applications."

This article is a good step in prodding the industry and our government to put more money toward nanotech risk research. However, I wonder at what point these calls for more focus will result in more action. We have seen some advances in 2006 with the city of Berkeley, California creating municipal regulations on nanotech. And, the EPA decided to regulate the use of nano silver in the environment.

It remains to be seen if this will continue to be a trend. So when you hear about a new nanotech breakthrough, continue to ask: Will it be safe?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

MnTexan's picture
MnTexan says:

The concerns are real, and this is the first time we can develop the toxicology at the same time as the technology. Nanotech can be very powerful, but development of production processes should take a holistic life-cycle view. Maybe we are finally smart enough to do cool stuff like nanotech safely. Aren't we?

posted on Sat, 01/20/2007 - 3:50pm

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