Monday, April 05, 2004

Too late to stem the 'toxic bucky' tide

From, more evidence that the environmental activist community is picking up the buckyball story and running with it. Ed Hunt writes:

    Western states are hoping to cash in on the next big technological boom - nanotechnology. Billions of dollars are being invested into what is likely to become a global trillion-dollar-a-year industry.

    Yet what are the consequences of this new industry to the people of Salmon Nation? What are the potential problems for salmon, and the other creatures that live here?

    … Few studies on health or environmental effects of nanoparticles have been conducted. Of the studies that have been conducted, the results have not been encouraging. Indeed, nanoparticles appear to have negative -- toxic -- effects on metabolism in ways that scientists did not anticipate. Almost no testing has been conducted to study the most likely vector for nanopartical contamination. Studies where nanoproducts are inhaled are expensive. Thus far, no one has expressed any interest in funding them, according to the Washington Post.

    Moreover, some of the new nanoproducts being created are proprietary and so the companies creating them do not want to disclose what they contain even when they plan to release them into the environment.

    Why should we in the Pacific Northwest be concerned about this lack of regulatory oversight applied to this potentially lucrative field?

    Because our states are spending millions of state taxpayer dollars in the hopes of attracting billions of federal taxpayer dollars to foster an industry with -- by all accounts -- unknown health and environmental consequences. I'm a life-long subscriber to Popular Science and a technology evangelist, but that makes even me nervous.

You can read the rest here. This piece, which is certainly not knee-jerk neoluddite, nevertheless does begin with the assumption that buckyballs are bad – a premise that was based solely one very limited study that even the researcher says should not be taken out of context. Of course, it has been and will continue to be. I asked Commerce Undersecretary Phil Bond about this last week in Washington.

Howard Lovy: Do you think it's almost too late? What was retained, and spread around the world, was "buckyballs, toxicity."

Phil Bond: "Buckyballs kill fish."

HL: Right. It's simplistic, but that is how these things spread around the world then is filtered through people's own personal politics and worldview.

Bond: Is the damage done, you mean?

HL: Is the damage done, but also wouldn't the people who want to be receptive to "bad nano" find something else?

Bond: Well, I suspect that that may be true. There are early adopters to any technology, both pro and con. So, the early adopters in the con view are not going to be persuaded. They're already convinced and they will take stories like this as proof of their point of view. However, I think the vast majority of people, certainly in the United States, are positively predisposed toward new technology as things that can both make life better and create jobs.

HL: Do you think that could change, though, as it did in Europe – where bad information actually hindered the genetically modified foods industry.

Bond: Yes, it can. I'm not sure in my lifetime I can see the fundamental attitude changing, but it can slow us down while we have the discussion, we can lose leadership while you're having the discussion.

HL: They're already protesting outside Lawrence Berkeley.

Bond: Right, I think you can certainly slow things down. I think America is still almost genetically positive about technology and innovation as a way to make life better and so we need to harness that and put it to use and at the same time addressing legitimate concerns.

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Commerce's call to nano arms
Nano is a concept by which we measure our pain
A sad jab at the 'Bad Rad Lab'