Wednesday, July 6, 2005

NANOHYPE AWARD for June 2005

While this report may have appeared in 2003. It recently came to my attention. I am vetting many of ETC's publications and this Communiqué will share the award with another on ETC's publications in July. Christopher Dickson a research assistant helped select this AWARD winner. For the second ETC AWARD winner See July 2005.

“Much ado about nothing? … Or the Sand Witch?” ETC Group Communiqué, September/October 2003, Issues 81.

There hasn’t been much research on the environmental consequences of the release of nanoproducts though there remains much speculation about the use of nanoproducts for soil stabilization and groundwater remediation.

There is little evidence that intentional release has occurred to date. However, the following instance does evidence the level of concern. While the ETC Group condemned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for selecting Sequoia Pacific Research Company’s patent-pending nano-engineered organic to treat soil erosion on First Nations’ land in New Mexico[i], a review of the actual event discredits their criticism. SoilSET™ was the product used on 1,400 acres of Taos Pueblo land. According to the company’s flyer[ii], “SoilSET™ contains no manufactured nano-particles, silicates or powders…. SoilSET™ initiates a chemical reaction that binds the natural nano-level silicates in the ground to larger native particles forming an absorbing matrix (or web) that is permeable to water. Each time SoilSET™ is re-hydrated, this binding process is re-actuated”. According to Richard Maile, chemist and president of Sequoia Pacific Research, “SoilSET™ binds to ash and helps cut back on the hydrophobicity of water-repellent qualities of soil, which increases runoff and erosion because water can’t soak into the ground”.[iii] Even ETC’s Communiqué admitted “it is quite possible that the particles active in the company’s product are nothing more than some type of sand” and “if SoilSET™ is simply old chemistry dressed up to look like a new technology, the company needs to address its own lack of clarity: is it spin to sell or product or it is truly a new products using a new nanotechnology process”?[iv]

However, this hardly excuses the overdramatic reporting done in this instance by ETC. While their suggestion that best practices for laboratory research using nanotechnology is probably justified, their call for immediate governmental intrusion beyond that recommendation into the market might be premature. However, SoilSET™ represents “the first of five nano-based products, including radioactive waste disposal as well as synthetic solid fuels and building materials”.[v] While this paper does not address the use of nanotechnology in environmental remediation, there have been some significant claims to that effect. “The EPA is already funding 16 universities and 11 private companies to research nanoscale answers to pollution and waste.” Wolfe argues there is a strong case being made that atomic scale precision would mean less waste because many nanotechnologists considering their work green chemistry.[vi] As such, we can expect intentional releases of nanoproducts into the environment in the not so distant future.

[i] “Much ado about nothing? … Or the Sand Witch?” ETC Group Communiqué, September/October 2003, Issues 81.
[ii] Sequoia Pacific Research Company, SoilSET™: High Tech solutions for Soil Erosion control, Re-Vegetation and Dust Control, 888-465-8801.
[iii] Randkin, A, “Paste combats blaze damage,” Albuquerque Journal Electronic Edition, 14 August 2003, (accessed12 May 2005).
[iv] “Much ado about nothing? … Or the Sand Witch?” ETC Group Communiqué, September/October 2003, Issues 81. [v] Karoub, J. “Nanomaterial overcomes weather woes in bid to save scorched land,” Small Times, 21 August 2003, (accessed 12 May 2005).
[vi] Wolfe, J., "Nanotech vs. environmentalists," Forbes, 16 September 2003, (accessed 17 October 2003).


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