In the wake of a new study linking “nanotechnology” to two deaths and five additional cases of lung disease, the emerging technology of the ultra-small could be in for a rough ride. Yet the real risk is that in the rush to use or even abuse the findings, the science and it’s true relevance are overlooked.
It’s never good news when a new technology is associated with a death.
The emerging area of nanotechnology has had a fairly smooth ride so far. Sure, there have been questions over possible new health risks associated with some of its more esoteric offerings. But no one has actually got sick from the technology.
Until now it seems…
A new study to be published in the European Respiratory Journal describes seven cases of unusual and progressive lung disease and two deaths amongst workers at a Chinese factory, and pins the likely cause on nanoparticles—which the authors link inextricably with nanotechnology.
The study presses a number of emotional and political buttons that are likely to elevate its significance—workers died; a new class of material, already under suspicion, is implicated; and in the journal’s press release, parallels are drawn with asbestos—a material that continues to be associated with tens of thousands of deaths around the world each year.
As news coverage surrounding the study gathers momentum, there will be the temptation for opponents and proponents of nanotechnology to either parade it as proof of nanotech’s dangers, or to dismiss it as ill-conceived, flawed and irrelevant. But either approach would be a serious mistake, and in the long term could jeopardize the safe, successful and beneficial development of nanotechnology.