Nanoparticles are becoming increasingly common in household items, from clothing, to cosmetics, to the paint on your living-room wall. Yet despite achieving global sales of $225 billion in 2009, we still know little about the health and environmental effects of these new microscopic particles. In light of this apparent knowledge-gap, the National Academy of Sciences has called for a systematic study of the nanotechnology industry to ascertain the risks nanoparticles pose to human health.
Currently the nanotechnology industry is growing at a rapid rate, estimated to expand to $3 trillion in 2015. Nanoparticles are formed from substances like aluminum, silver, carbon, and zinc and measure one billionth of a meter – one ten-thousandth the width of human hair. Their microscopic size means that they can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed by the skin. Once in the body, they could move from the respiratory system to vital organs.
However, nanotechnology will continue to develop and expand as money gets funnelled into the engineering side of the equation. Engineered nanotechnology materials (ENMs) are more complex nanoparticles, and will probably be manufactured in increasing numbers over the next few years. Unfortunately, funding to address the consequences of nanotechnology has yet to approach the vast-funding used to engineer and manufacture them.
In lieu of this apparent knowledge deficit, the National Academy of Sciences has highlighted four areas of research: identifying sources of nanoparticle release, determining the affects of exposure, understanding nanomaterial interaction at subcellular to ecosystem-levels, and providing ways to accelerate future research. Already the federal government is setting aside $123.5 million for ENM safety research. The Academy has called for an additional $24 a million a year, including funding from private, public, and international groups.
What are your thoughts on nanotechnology? Do you think nanoparticles pose a significant risk to the environment or human health?
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