Protecting the Consumer
When is the last time such a widespread technology was allowed to permeate society where the toxic consequences have the potential to impact its contribution to all areas of human and environmental health, industry, and government?
Early studies have demonstrated toxicity of some nanoparticles in mice, aquatic organisms, and cell lines. Of note, nanoparticles can be inhaled and translocated out of the lung to the liver and even into the brain. Other research has shown toxic effects in fish and plants. Ongoing research is being devoted to understanding which chemical properties make nanomaterials toxic and which aspects make them biocompatible.
Toxicity could be the limiting factor to the commercial success and public acceptance of nanotechnology-based products. Only a tiny fraction of funding devoted to nanotechnology has been set aside to determine the human and environmental health effects of nanoparticles. Today, the next big paradigm shift is actually really small and our ability to work at the molecular level is undoubtedly facilitating the discovery of new or value-added products in which our very understanding of their function depends on nanoscale biology, chemistry and physics. As with any new technology that moves as fast as nanotechnology the societal impacts are being debated.
A central issue is the potential human and environmental costs and benefits of this technology. These impacts are being portrayed in both a positive and negative light. On one hand, nanotechnology is being hailed for green energy as well as improved drugs and diagnostic ability for diseases such as cancer. However, these benefits are being tempered by some groups who are raising concerns over the occupational, environmental, and consumer health effects of nanomaterial exposure.
At present, those wishing to commercialize, invest in, or regulate nanotechnology do not have the resources in which to guide the implementation of nanotechnology such that it meets the considerations of human and environmental health. Moreover, in today's increasingly environmentally green culture, human health and environmental impacts will directly relate to the financial success of a product.