Six frequently asked questions any citizen must know about nanotechnology

This post is also available in: Spanish

1. Nanotechnology, nanomaterials, nanoparticles,… what’s all this about?

A nanomaterial is any material with morphological features sized in at least one dimension between 1 and 1000 nanometers (10-9 meters). In any of its dimensions (length, height, width) is really small: between one thousandth of one millimeter (0,001 millimeter) and 0,2 nanometers (0,0000002 millimeters).

Nanotechnology is the field of applied sciences dedicated to control and manipulation of nanomaterials and nanoparticles.

2. Is nanotechnology present in my day-to-day?

Yes.

Today, there are in the market more than 1.300.000 everyday products made from nanomaterials or using nanotechnology. If you are curious, in this page you will find lots of them. Greek yogurt, sunscreen, memory cards,… all type products and applications. You´ll get surprise.

copa_licurgo
Copa de Licurgo, nanotecnología made in Roma, siglo IV

But nanomaterials also exist in the nature itself in volcano eruptions, fires or sea water projected as spray. Human has also been living and even working with nanoparticles since centuries ago without knowing it. The point is that human have survived to that.

Nanotechnology is a different issue.

 

3. What makes nanomaterial such special products?

Nanomaterials are composed from well known materials for a long time. What makes them special are the outstanding physical and chemical features which provides the restructuration at a molecular level.

Materials modification at a nanoscale makes possible, for example, to apply a primer coat to an entire air plane with only one paint can that will repeal dirt, or to apply a spray on curtains or your sofa making them fire resistant, or that a thin plastic layer becames the final protection for your smartphone:

Applications are uncountable and this is just the beginning.

4. Are nanomaterials dangerous?

Yes. As also happens with almost anything, it depends on the received dose.

But the most dangerous of nanomaterials is the almost total lack of knowledge of the risks they may bring to human health and environment.

5. Are users and consumers safety and health factors of nanomaterials taken into account?

Yes.

Though there is certain delay. That is, nanotechnology as a well-known discipline exists more or less since 20 years ago, but health, safety and environment aspects are being consistently incorporated very recently (last years) to nanoproducts’ design. In addition, lot of money is invested into the safety of nanomaterials.

This improves what was traditionally done with other inventions, such as asbestos, lead, silica or electromagnetic radiation. Is it too late? Is the current investment in nanoEHS enought? Time will tell.

6. Against this uncertainty background, which precautions can be observed?

Currently, specialists say hygienic measures already known for existing products are suitable as protection against nanomaterials: respiratory tract, dermal and eyes protection by masks, ventilation, extraction and insulation when working with day-to-day products which you must consider to be made from nanotechnology, such as paints, cleaning products, treatment of food and farming products, etcetera.

Of course, despite of being the same kind of protection, now you must go to the most efficient protection systems.

Apart from that, I also apply more and more customs of a traditional way of life that I can. I stopped using fabric softener in the washing machine, I don´t eat cereals at breakfast (yes, the so crunchy cereals, imagine the reason), I go to ecological products, especially the ones I can collect in my village,…

Despite I do these practices since a long time ago for another reasons, by doing this I minimize my exposure to the new agents presents.

As a conclusion…

Without being obsessed, you must keep yourself informed on nanotechnology development. Thanks to a proper information and putting into practice suitable preventive measures, you will avoid problems for you and yours.

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Should you go into depth from a professional point of view, you can extend this information in the post I wrote at PrevenBlog on the issue.

And if you want to go beyond, visit one of the best sites on the Internet about nanotechnology safety, Decent NanoWork blog, by Asun Galera.

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