Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nanomaterials are Prey to EU Ministers.

In his 2002 novel, "Prey", the late Michael Crichton advanced a fictional scenario in which nanoparticles escaped from a lab and formed swarms in the desert with the drive and ability to kill humans and other animals whom they could use as feeding-templates on which bacteria could grow to replicate more of their kind. While such a scenario does appear alarmist and unlikely in reality, there remains nonetheless a sense of disquiet over the safety of nanomaterials, and their potential toxicity should they be released into the environment.

In 2008, manufacturers of skin "care-products" decided to avoid them in their formulations and now EU ministers have decided that nanosilver particles (also used e.g. in washing machines and in shoes to get rid of nasty smells) and multiwalled carbon nanotubes should be banned in electronic and electrical products. Members of the EU Environment Committee made this call during their vote on possible amendments to the "Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive".

In addition, the Committee has recommended that all electrical and electronic products (including fast-computers and solar cells) that contained "nanomaterials of any nature" should be so labelled as containing them. Hence an onus would be on manufacturers to provide safety hazard information on any nanomaterials that their products may contain.

This appears quite tricky for example given the putative application where carbon nanotubes could be used as "synthetic nerves" in limb prosthetics, by acting as template around which neural tissue might grow. As introduced into the human body directly, any potential toxicity might prove rather difficult.

My awareness of the toxicity of carbon nanotubes is that the jury is out. I know of one study of them designed to search for the formation of free-radicals (toxic, short-lived molecules derived from oxygen) which seemed to indicate that the nanotubes actually soaked-up these species, leaving less of them than would be the case in their absence. That said, there are other studies that support a toxic role for carbon nanotubes. Since silver nanoparticles act in cleaning biological stains and smells by producing hydroxyl and other oxygen radicals, which are toxic in vivo, then if they were ingested the consequences could be dire.

The vote on the proposals is due in October, as reported in the July 2010 edition of Chemistry World, published by The Royal Society of Chemistry.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder if, Chris, there is a danger that, because regulators know little about nano technology, they will instinctively “regulate”, which could be a kiss of death to almost any nano field, so little is known of the art, so unimaginable are the possibilities.
A comparison could be made with GM food crops, which have been proven to increase crop yields enormously, without any proven ill effects on humans, despite massive negative predictions by environmentalists.
The increase in global population has to be fed, and GM crops enable us to do this, safely. Perhaps nano science will enable us to provide the increased population to have a decent standard of living, in ways which we cannot even imagine at present. Who will ever know what promising lines of research are snuffed out as a result of regulation?
Incidentally, doesn’t “Toxic in vito” mean “poisonous to living organisms”? In certain circumstances isn’t water “toxic in vito”? Isn’t oxygen? Isn’t just about everything? So why not regulate water, oxygen, just about everything?
Best regards,
Peter Melia

energybalance said...

Hi Peter,

"toxic in vivo" as opposed to "in vitro"! The whole issue of free radicals in disease is contentious in the respect that it is the inference of results from lab experiments that is superimposed on the living system.

Indeed, these species are derived from oxygen, most notably the hydroxyl radical. There was a recent study of lifestyles etc. that suggested that eating the "5 portions a day" makes little difference to whether you get cancer or not, but I think it's all part of a bigger picture.

Maybe people who live in sunnier climes than the cold, wet northern countries like Britain are simply full of happy chemicals and protected in some as yet not recognised way?

Water in a dose of about 20 litres can be fatal! "Heavy water" in a far smaller dose as it changes the rates of important biological reactions!

That aside, I agree with you that over-legislation is potentially dangerous. Nano-materials are truly remarkable and presuming we maintain the energy to devise and develop the technology, could change the world in all manner of positive ways. As you say, no one knows for sure as yet and won;t if it is all "snuffed-out".

I suspect someone has been nobbled here (in the EU that is) and there is a hidden agenda.

In regard to the rise in human population, I am dubious. If a Hubbert type (logistic function) analysis is fitted to human population growth then the conclusion emerges that in the year 2024 we will hit a maximum of 7.1 billion of us (from 6.8 billion now, and hence not so many more really), but this will decline to around 2.5 billion by 2100. This rather flies in the face of the WHO prediction of over 9 billion by 2050.

So, indeed, one scenario depends on there being sufficient resources to maintain that growth while the alternative would be an apocalyptic consequence of supplies being unable to meet demand, and/or wars and disease of epidemic proportions.

Best regards,

Chris.

energybalance said...

Hi Peter,

"toxic in vivo" as opposed to "in vitro"! The whole issue of free radicals in disease is contentious in the respect that it is the inference of results from lab experiments that is superimposed on the living system.

Indeed, these species are derived from oxygen, most notably the hydroxyl radical. There was a recent study of lifestyles etc. that suggested that eating the "5 portions a day" makes little difference to whether you get cancer or not, but I think it's all part of a bigger picture.

Maybe people who live in sunnier climes than the cold, wet northern countries like Britain are simply full of happy chemicals and protected in some as yet not recognised way?

Water in a dose of about 20 litres can be fatal! "Heavy water" in a far smaller dose as it changes the rates of important biological reactions!

That aside, I agree with you that over-legislation is potentially dangerous. Nano-materials are truly remarkable and presuming we maintain the energy to devise and develop the technology, could change the world in all manner of positive ways. As you say, no one knows for sure as yet and won;t if it is all "snuffed-out".

I suspect someone has been nobbled here (in the EU that is) and there is a hidden agenda.

In regard to the rise in human population, I am dubious. If a Hubbert type (logistic function) analysis is fitted to human population growth then the conclusion emerges that in the year 2024 we will hit a maximum of 7.1 billion of us (from 6.8 billion now, and hence not so many more really), but this will decline to around 2.5 billion by 2100. This rather flies in the face of the WHO prediction of over 9 billion by 2050.

So, indeed, one scenario depends on there being sufficient resources to maintain that growth while the alternative would be an apocalyptic consequence of supplies being unable to meet demand, and/or wars and disease of epidemic proportions.

Best regards,

Chris.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,
Sorry to return a second time on one post, yet it’s not actually on the post, it’s a spin-off, as so often happens.
Population will rise from a now (2010) of 6.6 x 10^9 to a 2104 count of 7.1 x 10^9, “..not so many more really”).
Well, from where I’m standing, we gain just under 60,000 people per day during the next 14 years. That’s a small town each day. Now I happen to live near to such a small town, one of those sunnier climes than the cold, wet northern countries like Britain and I guess I must be simply full of happy chemicals and protected in some as yet not recognised way? Incidentally one way I recognise is small amounts of good Corsican Red at regular intervals!
This small town is fully functioning, government, university, schools, hospitals, reliable power, clean water, timely sewage and garbage disposal, etc. OK, I know, it’s my own fault, but hey, somebody has to live near to such places!
Tomorrow our world will be presented with a brand new parallel little new town to that one near to me, except that every citizen is stark naked, cannot feed itself, is illiterate, broke, etc.
So, in the balance between our two towns, the average prosperity of the two is reduced.
Day, after day, year after year.
This cannot go on! It must be stopped!
Don’t worry, it will according to the Hubbert analysis.
From 2014 a decline will set in. The population will shrink from the 2014 figure of 7.1 x 10^9 down to 2.5 x 10^9 in 2100.
So each year the world lose the equivalent of a medium sized country, about 60 million per year, gone.
Scratch the UK, scratch Europe, scratch Russian states, scratch the USA, all of the Anglosphere, the Francosphere, 60 x 10^6 each year!
How on earth can civilisation as we know it survive such a catastrophic drop in it’s numbers?
The global population is already too high, but we are handling it. The target is to tail off the growth, and then gradually reduce it, but not at catastrophic rates.
Brgds
Peter Melia

energybalance said...

Hi {Peter,

yes of course, in real numbers the difference between 6.8 and 7.1 billion is enormous. The Hubbert analysis is really a "prediction" of a catastrophic loss of lives that might come to pass if we plough on using up resources unchecked.

My point is that we are not so far distant from the "population peak" just now if nothing is done.

Indeed, we need to handle population growth, and maybe you are right that nano and GM can play a vital role here.

Their are those of course, e,g, the end-timers who may be gleeful at the prospect of an apocalypse on the grounds that this was all "foretold" in the Good Book.

I am not of this thinking, but where the world is now with the economic fallout and the threatening energy crisis, leaves me to believe there are troubles ahead and we need a concerted "class-act" if the worst outcome is to be mitigated.

Regards,

Chris.