May 29, 2012

Even Nanotechnology Has Safety and Ethics Issues

This is a topic that is due and much needed at this time. While I am in favor of nanotechnology for the greater good that it can do, some issues could cause more harm than intended. Kathleen Eggleson, a research scientist in the Center for Nano Science and Technology (NDnano) at the University of Notre Dame, provides an example of a nanotechnology-related safety and ethics problem that is unfolding right now.

She realizes that nanotechnology is here and there are some ethical and problematic sides to our new found and potentially great tool for treatment of diseases. Not only will they affect people in real ways, but nanotechnology may also become a harm to people. This is why she is in charge of the Center for Nano Science and Technology last year to study and prompt discussion of problems involving nanotechnology.

"NDnano is expanding its scope into studies of the societal impact of nanotechnology," explains Wolfgang Porod, Frank M. Freimann Professor of Electrical Engineering at Notre Dame and director of the center. "This is the background for bringing Kathy on board."

As part of her duties, she has established a monthly meeting group, called Nano Impacts Intellectual Community. This taps into Notre Dame researchers from the campus, visiting scholars, and others from outside the university to probe nanotechnology topics in depth. Some of the issues on the table have been ethics in nanomedicine, the commercialization of nanotechnology products, and the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology research.

Eggleson has some excellent thoughts about nanotechnology and its usage. She is concerned about how nanotechnology may affect our own beneficial and internal bacteria needed to synthesize vitamins and aid digestion. Some bacteria are needed to maintain appropriate levels of nitrogen in the air.

She discusses at length a potential good and potential harm from one use of nanotechnology. This is the nano-sized particles of silver that are used in hospitals and clinics. Silver is an element that is known for its antimicrobial properties. These nano-sized particles are being applied to hard surfaces, like bed rails and doorknobs, and to fabrics, such as sheets, gowns and curtains, by a growing number of medical supply companies. These new materials are proving effective.

"Nanosilver coatings have made life-saving differences to the properties of typical hospital items," Eggleson says. "Just this last December, a textile made by a Swiss company was the first nano-scale material approved as a pesticide by the EPA."

“The possible new danger is that the vast majority of bacteria and other microorganisms are actually neutral, or even beneficial, to human life and a healthy environment. So overuse of nanosilver products, especially outside of clinical environments, could pose a danger to needed microorganisms, and enable resistant strains to flourish.”

"Under most conditions, the preservation of microbial biodiversity is a benefit,"  explains Eggleson. "In fact, those who would use these potent new antimicrobial technologies for frivolous uses, such as for odor control, work directly against the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative's goal of responsible nanotechnology development."

This is the purpose for Kathleen Eggleson and I do not envy her and the tasks she has ahead of her. Read the article here.

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