Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On NANO: RESEARCH STRATEGY FOR ADDRESSING RISK

Andrew Maynard, NANOTECHNOLOGY: A RESEARCH STRATEGY FOR ASSESSING RISK, DC: Woodrow Wilson PEN, July 2006 - RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS.

Mixed review - Andrew Maynard does some good work here but there seems to be overreach in some places.

"Research lacks strategic direction." This sentence from the foreword encapsulates the entire report.

This has been the case in all of science throughout the history of science. The problem has been to decide who should establish the directions for research.

Indeed, a very strong case has been made that researchers competing against one another for grants and honors often produces that crucible of learning where irrelevancies are burnt away and what is left has value.

In addition, while it might behoove us to focus on areas of research deemed most important first that usually depends on whether we have the researchers in the field willing to undertake the assignments.

Finally, we should not lull ourselves into complacency that medium- and long-term implications are less important.

(p. 3) - "...[P]ublic confidence in these emerging applications is in danger of being undermined." Let's not oversimplify this issue. It will take a lot more than toxicology and exposure studies to protect and sustain public confidence.

(p. 5) - "...risk research should be carried out...." It might also be important to keep in mind that industry is doing a lot of research and acquiring their findings should be a priority as well. We might be able to build into our current regulatory strategies ways to encourage sharing of information for some preferential treatment by government. Elsewhere, I have made the same argument but from the insurance industry's perspective.

(p. 6). - "...an independent study effort." This would seem to suggest strategic partnerships with the IRGC at this time.

(p. 8). - "...only one percent of the billions of follars the U.S. federal government has invested...." While I don't doubt that more investment is needed, I am uncomfortable with this percentage given that the author admits he did not have access to all the data.

(p. 13). - "Do we really want a situation where the de facto approach to health and safety of nanotechnology is "put the products on the market first and answer questions later?" - This is an oversimplification. First, some products will have low exposure values so sure. Second, this concept demands a grander decision on how much precaution should be built into our regulatory policies and that issue has not been sufficiently addressed.

(p. 16). - "The NNI lacks the authority to compel greater investments in risk-related research." True, but that does not mean it cannot influence the process. I am not sure an overlord over research is such a good idea since redundancy in research can be a strong corrective and for reasons mentioned above.

(p. 21 back to 19). - Figure 3 logic. Trying to link safety research to products on the market ignores the exposure variable and seems inconsitent with some earlier concerns over exposure research though I appreciate the interest in life cycle studies.

(p. 21). - ..."no projects are specifically addressing the potential effects of nanomaterials in the gastrointestinal tract..." This is a very interesting observation and we discovered the same when reviewing the ICON database, but there are additional variable at work here such as researcher interests, etc.

(p. 24). - "Althought identifying research priorites 10 years out in somewhat speculative, it is an exercise that helps focus on immediate needs." This is a noble task though it is often difficult to control the breadth of speculation. Counterfactuals in logic have demonstrated this repeatedly as has the entire field of abduction.

My concern is we need to bracket research. We need to spend the bulk of our research money on immediate and short-term goals but to quote a colleague of mind, to preclude being "upstream without a paddle" once again, we may need to address goals further down the development pipeline.

We know, as a rule and it should occur in nanoscience as well, that developments in many ways build on each other and accelerate, so we may have less of a window of opportunity on studying the implications of more advanced applications.

I want to comment of the Health Effects Institute as a model for the Nanotechnology Effects Institute, but I will need to do more research.

Now to the good stuff.

Yes, we need exposure research and we probably need some effort to research toxicity issues with emphasis on high exposure populations and those with highest sensitivity.

Yes, we need work in infomatics - concatenation of information of this sort will be time consuming and expensive.

Yes, we should link research to oversight.

Most importantly, yes, we need more research money in EHS research but more money does not necessarily generate better research nor does it guarantee public confidence per se.

On Lux Report - Taking Action on Nanotech May 2006 - RECOMMENDED

The Lux Report was good and had a lot of useful information and is recommended. I was one of the folks interviewed but I don't recommend a lot of things so...

Since it is copyrighted and proprietary to Lux, the following is simply an overview much like the Executive Summary that is used in their advertisement. If you want more, you need to buy the report.

The May 2006 report's full title is "Taking Action on Nanotech Environmental, Health, and Safety Risks." And was one of three actions on the nanotech risk landscape. The other two are the IRGC Report and the New Wilson Center report both of which will be blogged soon.

Some of its highlights -
1. We need exposure research esp. since it seems to be incredibly difficult to predict and measure given current monitoring technologies.
2. We need some testing to determine the effectiveness of current engineering controls involving ventiliation and personal protective equipment.
3. We need to understand risk and consequent liability leads to retrenchment rather than increasing private investment into toxicity research.

Areas of disagreement by me -
1. Lux feels technological paradises will only provide breathing room and companies will find their EHS problems following them - I found this overly optimistic. There are a plethora of reasons this may not be true. Such as - 1. the developing world has tended to avoid regulation and has not a track record of greening per se; 2. international agreements have not been able to guarantee fair labor and it is doubtless they can insure EHS; 3. there are many different ways for a corporation to insultate itself from liability when using a supplier.....
2. Regulation .... Here's the issue from my point of view. Large companies need regulation to increase predictability. Actually, the more stringent the regulations the more likely that large established transnationals can stranglehold startups and consume them. Regulation has traditionally been a concentration and monopoly device.

Monday, July 24, 2006

NANOHYPE AWARD for June 2006 - Chain Reaction June 2006

While at the IRGC Meeting in Zurich, I met a representative from Friends of the Earth - Australia. She informed me and others that the new issue of CHAIN REACTION: The National Magazine of Friends of the Earth - Australia, June 2006, was dedicated to nanotechnology. The following is about a single issue of a magazine of FOE - Australia and should not impugn other issues or the FOE elsewhere.

Though I haven't given out a NANOHYPE AWARD in some time, this issue of CHAIN REACTION deserves it.

Page 15 - "...it seems governments have overlooked funding research into the inherent risks of social disruption (maybe and rightly so because this is infinitely regressive), and harm to environment and health (not true though more might be done), associated with nanotechnology, and have been unwilling to critically assess nanotechnology's broader implications for society (see SEIN or NELSI related research in the USA and in the UK).

Page 16 - "We propose that a public participation steering group, comprising representatives from research, industry, union and non-government organizations, is established to oversee this programme (meaning all nanotechnology) and to ensure its transparency." AND "Resources should be provided to enable all participants to take part in these processes in a meaningful way." RESPONSE - Huh? Who is on this steering group? Is it international? How does it have jurisdiction over private industry? Is it regulatory? If so, EHS? Or more? I enjoy reading anarchist literature but this is beyond the pale of reason. Resources for ALL participants - who pays? The public? The government which is the public? The industry which would kill the growth associated with employment and health?

Page 17 - First reference to nanoparticles as the new asbestos (no explanation beyond that).

Page 17 - "It also appears likely that nanoparticles can penetrate the skin..." NOT in the research I have seen.

Page 18 - "...fullerenes have also been found to cause brain damage in fish." REBUTTED.

Page 18 - "The public may also be exposed to nanoparticles as a result of nanopollution...." HUH? What is this about?

Page 19 - Second reference to nanoparticles as new asbestos.

Page 19 - "Most of the press coverage that there has been around the dangers of nanotechnology have been more in the realms of science fiction rather than fact." NO TRUE - I am not sure what press material the author read.

Page 20 - "...Swiss Re has also warned that the uncertainty about the risks that nanotechnology and nano-pollution pose mean that they currently will not offer insurance to the industry." NO TRUE - some have suggested it will be very difficult but industry is covered today.

Page 20 - Third reference to nanoparticles as new asbestos with the kicker "where millions of people were exposed to a killer dust that even today kills tens of thousands of people across the world."

And it goes on and on.

Toward the end of the issue we get warnings about globalization and human enhancement. On page 42, it adds "...there are still no laws anywhere in the world government the use of nanotechnology or nanomaterials to ensure that they do not cause harm to the public..." NO TRUE - while there may not be specific legislation, nanomaterials are covered under a lot of rules and regulations.

Page 45 - "Stakeholder groups who will be impacted by nanotechnology (e.g., labour groups, public health organizations, disability rights advocates, civil liberties advocates, consumer organizations, environmental organization, farmers associations, medical groups, specialist and industry organizations) should also be involved... HERE'S THE RUB. Who is not a stakeholder? If everyone is involved, then we have a plan to completely shut down the industry by bureaucratic dampening. This strategy of over-participation isn't fooling anyone. If enough folks get involved nothing happens. Why hide a complete moratorium under the guise of false democratic theory?

Finally, nanotechnology offers the anti-globalization people a wonderful pulpit to resurrect their claims to a decentralized, tribal society where industry is run by collectives. Folks, we did learn a few things about these phenomena. First, tribalism or small barter economies can be very nasty. Second, when socialism is centrally planned most of its promises are short-circuited.

In conclusion, I am beginning to question how well self-reported non-governmental organizations represent anyone but themselves at times. While there are some outstanding exceptions, such as Environmental Defense, Greenpeace, and others, there are too many other groups that are a website and a federal ID number run by a handful of folks overclaiming their representativeness. At other times, there are huge loosely coordinated groups, with members like FOE Australia, who represent a very small number of its members when they advance socialist agendas in international meetings.

Stakeholders cannot include everyone since everyone does not have a stake. Most of the public have more to worry about than science policy and do not care an iota about policy decisions in this area. There are thresholds built into stakeholder theory, a subject I am writing about for a Wiley Book. So more on that later.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On Green Nano

I wrote the following for a journal and they wanted more data??? I know it may not be consistent with ICON's view of Green Nano but this is my opinion and not theirs.

HOW GREEN IS MY NANO?

Danger levels in the USA are designated in a range colors from red to green. Red is very bad and green is not. A Green Party is nascent in the USA but an important political forum in some Western Europeans countries. Green Chemistry refers to a chemistry sub-discipline of sorts where advocates call for designing products and processes that reduces or eliminates hazardous substances from the beginning to end of a chemical product’s life cycle. There was a model program launched in 1991 by the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics with mixed results.

Now there seems to be an effort afoot in the USA to color code nano. Allegedly, the Green Nano Initiative (GNI) attempts to create a green foundation for the nanotechnology industry involving fewer reagents, less solvent, and less energy having a milder environmental impact than current technology (Ritter, 2006). The framework for this initiative would also include a clearer understanding to the life cycle implications associated with nanomaterials and nanoproducts. The initiative involves policy incentives to encourage a “green” nanotechnology industry which presumably would use energy efficiently and produce minimal waste. This might involve tweaking regulations that discourage substitution of new “nano” technologies for older ones. It also includes the encouragement of remediation, solar energy, and water treatment technologies. Finally, it involves reducing the environmental health and safety (EHS) footprint the industry will impose on workers and society. While there has been reporting that regulators and experts have launched the GNI, this seems to be mostly the work of Barbara Karn on detail from the U.S. EPA and a visiting scientist at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The GNI is also supported by the Woodrow Wilson Institute GreenNano series of workshops.

The following gives a thumbprint summary of the some of the “green”-ness issues associated with nanoscience. It has been organized in three categories: Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), general efficiencies, and remediation.

EHS – With databases both at the International Council on Nanotechnology’s (ICON) site and at Woodrow Wilson and two anticipated at the Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig and as part of the diffused NSEC: Center for Nanotechnology in Society’s Nano-Indicator Series, we have quite a bit of information. Adding both the work at NIOSH and the anticipated Current Practices report from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and ICON, we should have even more information. As long as the EPA and other groups continue to fund EHS research and hopefully at much higher levels when partnered with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) General Duty clause buttressed by litigation attorneys, we can expect serious consideration of EHS in nanoproduction facilities.

Research wise, one study (Robichaud, 2005) indicates that the EHS footprint of some nanoparticles is comparable to many marketed products such as wine, aspirin, automotive lead batteries, refined petroleum, and high density plastics. Very promising work by Andre Nel and his UCLA team (Nel, 2006) involved developing a new testing method to assess the safety and health risks of engineered nanomaterials. Nel may have developed the testing model at UCLA based on toxicity testing for occupational and air pollution nanoparticles. Nel is also establishing NanoSafety Laboratories Inc. (NSL) in association with California NanoScience Initiative (CNSI) at UCLA to help manufacturers assess the safety and risk profiles of engineered nanomaterials (“New testing method…, 2006).

EFFICIENCIES – Efficiencies exist on many levels. For example, energy applications range from efficient fuel cells to portable solar cells and work in this area is occurring on many university campuses and at startups and large established firms both here and abroad. Furthermore, new production techniques may reduce organic solvents and other toxic chemicals during synthesis. In addition, working on the nanoscale would seem to reduce waste of all sorts. Most importantly for the GNI, reducing the use of solvents during synthesis stand to drive down the cost of producing metal nanoparticles by eliminating the need to recover and dispose of these materials in a safe and environmental responsible manner (“Green method…, 2006). For example, for water soluble nanomaterials, organic solvents used for purification can be eliminated. There are other creative applications as well. For example, DuPont is working on a paint sealant for automotive components “reducing the environmental impact of producing cars by slashing the amount of energy and materials needed” (Gartner, 2006).

REMEDIATION – The major player in this initiative at this time may be remediation. High surface area to volume rations, high surface energies, a large fraction of stepped surface (Wang and Zhang, 1997), and unique structures, such as zero valency (Masciangioli and Zhang, 2003), can make nano-sized metals extremely chemically reactive.

Interface Sciences Corporation of Monterey, CA, uses nanomaterials for oil remediation and recovery (“In the wake…, 2005), the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory uses nano-sized silver hollandite to oxidize nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons potentially impacts the catalytic converter industry (Inexpensive oxidation…, 2005), and many researcher are working with nanoscale zero-valent iron to remediate PCB-contaminated soils and sediments (Mikszewski, 2004).

Novation Environmental Technologies “holds a license which uses nanofiltration to help purify water” (Choi, 2005a). EMembrane is “developing nanoscale polymer brushes coated with molecules to capture and remove poisonous metal proteins, and germs.” KX Industries has developed antibacterial and antiviral water-filtering membranes that can turn raw sewage into clean water on the other end (Choi, 2005b). Aguavia is using nanopore membranes in a water-filtration system. “A six inch cube of membrane could purify 100,000 gallons of water a day” (Bailey, 2004). Argonide’s NanoCeram Superfilter uses nanofibers, which has multiple applications, including purifying water from biological agents and for industrial processing (“US-Russian…, 2005).

Other companies like Nano-Proprietary and its subsidiary Applied Nanotech is working on a thin film coating on a flexible fiberglass cloth that decomposes pollutants at the molecular level (“Nano-Proprietary, Inc. to receive…, 2006). China plans on using a nanoized titanic oxide based compound coating material as a permanent air purifier on the exterior walls of buildings in Shanghai (”Paint to help…, 2004). Still others are developing sensors to detect hazardous materials in aquatic environments (“Top Green nanotechnology…, 2006).

One of the more entertaining claims was made by Nano Green Sciences, a small Florida company. They produced a colloidal micelle that can be used as a replacement pesticide. It has demonstrated some effectiveness against soft-bodied insects, hydrocarbons, and many bacterial borne diseases. It may have applications across the agriculture, food processing, animal care, bioremediation, and cleaning industries (“Clean surfaces…, 2005).

STRATEGY – The GNI, if it is an initiative, transfers the positive valence of “green”-ness to the burgeoning field of nanoscience and places critics in the unfortunate position where not only are they compelled to argue against nanoscience but also against the symbolic connotation of “green”-ness. I admit I am associated with ICON and helping them with their communication. In addition, I am a tenured and secure full professor and would complain as loudly had ICON introduced the GNI.

There’s a phenomena going on in the nanoworld and it involves capturing as much rhetorical space as possible. There are quite a few participants in this race. We have a few NGOs (some much more reasonable than others). They include the ETC Group (least reasonable), Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Environmental Defense (very reasonable). We have stakeholder organizations like the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON). Finally, we have a public interest group known as the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Emerging Technologies Project (WWC-P) supported in part by the Pew Charitable Trust.

Rhetorical space is limited because there are limits to public interest and attention. Rhetorical space is further reduced as the subject becomes more discrete and this supports a continuum of sorts anchored by ACC at one end and the WWC-P on the other. ACC represents the best interests of its membership and responds as a public and governmental relations branch of the chemical industry and WWC-P has extensive resources, geographical centrality, and facility support beholding to no one but their benefactors with limited restrictions on the tone of their rhetoric. ICON rests in the middle. It has a broader range of stakeholders, a limited mandate, and must represent a more diverse set of interests hence its rhetoric is much more tempered.

As a communications professional and cynic, it seems the GNI may be nothing more than a marketing ploy (I really hope I am wrong about all this since environmental friendly technology with a minimal EHS footprint would be great.) The GNI could even be a smoke screen to direct attention away from the EPA regulatory failures. This conclusion is drawn from the apparent overreach of the concept. Once you consider what might constitute Green Nano, at least as defined by its proponents, it is difficult to discern what might not be Green Nano.

If we can move beyond its symbolic significance and its perception management functions, there are important marketing features to the term. Most importantly for the following, the GNI moves nanoscience into a new paradigmatic framework.

By marketing another paradigm for nanoscience, it rejects the revolutionary rhetoric that has pitted hyperbolic claims about nanoscience against EHS concerns. As these concerns mount, the response that nanoscience is merely an evolutionary step in chemistry rang false against the revolutionary claims made about its overall effect on society.

By marketing another paradigm for nanoscience, it rejects the development and economic growth and security metaphor promoted by government promoters. Premised on the politics of fear both in terms of economic security and direct references to the GMO debacle in Western Europe, it is used to justify an ongoing and major investment by the USA federal government in nanoscience.

And by marketing another paradigm for nanoscience, GNI extends an argument entertained by J. Clarence Davies in an earlier publication calling for a sustainable model of nanoscientific development. According to Karn, the GreenNano series will look at government policies that offer incentives for developing smart engineering and business practices. Davies dedicated three pages in his treatise on regulating nanoscience to incentive for environmentally beneficial technology. In it, he advocated tax breaks, preferential acquisition programs (favoring greener vendors), and regulatory incentives (like accelerated review) though he admits his package of suggestions for environmentally beneficial nanotechnology might not make it out of the current sitting US Congress.

Finally, we must try to evaluate the power of the new claim of Green Nano against the intrinsic implications this may have on environmental ethics. One of the consequences of misclaiming that something is green is the sating and quelling of concern and protest. For example, if the public feels everything is recyclable they may be less willing to restrict consumption in order to reduce refuse. If they feel all nano might be green, they may be less vigilant to some more problematic applications.

This new concept involves recasting nanoscience. GNI or Green Nanoscience would involve the production and use of nanomaterials minimalizing their EHS footprint, a reduction in wasteful production on a macro-scale with more precision on a nano-scale, and remediation efforts using nanoparticles. It is too bad that when the concept of applied nanoscience, read as nanotechnology, was first introduced it was not introduced more greenly. It might have changed the tone of the debate and the direction of policy initiatives both in the USA and abroad.

This work has been made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation, NSF 01-157, NIRT (Nanotechnology Interdisciplinary Research Team): PHILOSOPHICAL AND SOCIAL DIMENSIONS OF NANOSCALE RESEARCH, From Laboratory to Society: Developing and Informed Approach to Nanoscale Science and Technology and NSF 04-043, NSEC: Revised Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, Center for Nanotechnology in Society. All opinions expressed within are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of South Carolina or the National Science Foundation or the International Council on Nanotechnology.

SOURCES

Bailey, R. 2004. “Nanotechnology: Hell or Heaven?” Reasononline, October 27.
http://www.reason.com/rb/rb102794.shtml (accessed November 1, 2004).

Choi, C. 2005a. “Ten overlooked nano firms,” Washington Times, May 9. http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20050506-011337-9236r.htm (accessed July 3, 2005).

Choi, C. 2005b. “Nano World: Water, water everywhere nano,” World Peace Herald, March 18. http://www.wpherald.com/print.php?StoryID=20050318-112217-1110r (accessed July 12, 2005).

“Clean surfaces and eliminate pests with Nano Green.” 2005. Nanotechnology Now June 6. http://www.nanotech-now.com/news.cgi?story_id=09908 and http://www.nanogreensciences.com/ (accessed June 6, 2006).

Gartner, J. 2006. “Nano coatings paint green future,” Wired News, February 10. http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,70117-0.html (accessed June 6, 2006).

“Green methods developed for making gold nanoparticles.” 2006. Azonano.com May 8-11. http://www.azonano.com/news.asp?newsID=2121 (accessed June 6, 2006).

“Inexpensive oxidation catalyst could reduce diesel emissions.” (2005). Science Daily September 12
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/09/050911105720.htm (accessed June 6, 2006).

“In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, nanotechnology provides innovative solution to environmental cleanup.” 2005. NSTI http://www.nsti.org/news/breaking.html?id=40 (accessed June 6, 2006).

Masciangioli, T. and W. Zhang. 2003. “Environmental technologies at the nanoscale.” Environmental Science and Technology 37(5):102A-108A.

Mikszewski, A. 2004. “Emerging technologies for the in situ remediation of PCB-contaminated soils and sediments: Bioremediation of nanoscale zero-valent iron.”
clu-in.org/download/studentpapers/bio_of_pcbs_paper.pdf (accessed June 6, 2006).

“Nano-Proprietary, Inc. to receive $1 million for biological and chemical air purification system.” (2006) Market Wire January 26 http://www.marketwire.com/mw/release_html_b1?release_id=107487 (accessed June 6, 2006).

“New testing method developed to assess safety, health risks of nanomaterials.” 2006. Nanotechwire.com February 5
http://www.nanotechwire.com/news.asp?nid=2874&ntid=122&pg=1 (accessed June 6, 2006).

Nel, A., T. Xia, L. Madler and N. Li. (2006). “Toxic potential of materials at the nanolevel.” Science, February 3, 311(5761): 622-628(6).

“Paint to help clean and purify bad aid.” 2004. Shanghai Daily News November 12 http://english.eastday.com/eastday/englishedition/metro/userobject1ai710823.html (accessed June 6, 2006).

Ritter, S. 2006. “Planning nanotech from the ground up.” Chemical and Engineering News 84(16):37-38.

Robichaud, A, D. Tanzil, U. Weilenmann and M. Weisner, 2005. “Relative risk analysis of several manufactured nanomaterials: An insurance industry context.” Environmental Science and Technology 29(22): 8985-8994.

“Top “Green” nanotechnology researchers present results,” 2006. AtoZnano.com March 28 http://www.azonano.com/news.asp?newsID=2043 (accessed June 6, 2006).

“U.S.-Russian Nano-Filter Enters Space Technology Hall of Fame.” 2005. Nano-
InvestorNews, April 13. http://www.nanoinvestornews.com/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=4209 (accessed April 18, 2005).

Wang, C. and W. Zhang. 1997. “Synthesizing nanoscale iron particles for rapid and complete dechlorination of TCE and PCBs.” Environmental Science and Technolo

Monday, July 17, 2006

On the NSF $1 trillion prognostication.

While I enjoyed much of Miller et al's book, The Handbook of Nanotechnology: Business, Policy, and Intellectual Property Law, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2006, I thought I needed to comment on a remark on p. 175.

John Miller in his book remarked that the $1 trillion estimate on the total market impacts from nanotechnology attributed to the NSF may be meritless. "No one knows where this analysis comes from, or what assumptions such a prediction are based on...." NOT TRUE.

Here's the basis. It comes from the NSF 2001 publication on Societal Implications of Nanotechnology (p. 3-4).

1. Nanostructured materials and processes are estimated to increase their maket impact to about $340 billion per year in the next 10 years.[1]
2. Nanotechnology is projected to yield annual production of about $300 billion for the semiconductor industry and about the same amount more for global integrated circuit sales within 10 to 15 years.[2]
3. About half of all production in pharmaceuticals will be dependent on nanotechnology, affecting over $180 billion per year in 10 to 15 years.[3]
4. Nanostructured catalysts have applications in the petroleum and chemical processing industries, with an estimated annual impact of $100 billion in 10 to 15 years, assuming a historical rate of increase of about 10% from $30 billion in 1999.[4]
5. Nanotechnology-enabled aerospace products alone are projected to have an annual market value of about $70 billion in 10 years.[5]

[1] Hitachi Research Institute, personal communication, 2001.
[2] Doering, R. “Societal Implications of Scaling to Nanoelectronics,” Societal Implications of Nanotechnology and Nanoscience, National Science Foundation, 2001, pg. 74.
[3] E. Cooper, Elan/Nanosystems, personal communication, 2000.
[4] “NNI: The Initiative and Its Implementation Plan,” 1999, page 84.
[5] Hitachi Research Institute, personal communication, 2001.
Societal Effects on Nanotechnology.

Friday, July 14, 2006

On Nanotechnology, Water and Development - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Hilie, T, M. Munasinghe, M. Hlope, and Y. Deraniyagala, Nanotechnology, Water and Development, Meridian Institute: Global Dialogue on Nanotechnology and the Poor, 2006 http://www.merid.org/nano/waterpaper/NanoWaterPaperFinal.pdf

This report is the best yet on applications.

I have advocated applications in three areas to get the public on board: medicine, water, and energy and I feel this report is well-timed and a major contribution to the debate on all things nano.

It begins with a rich data set on water associated development issues, such as "...in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia respectively, some 769,000 and 683,000 children under five years of age died annually from diarrheal disease in 2000-2003" (p. 9).

The second chapter examines a study involving sari cloth to reduce cholera contamination in Bangladesh. While I am less convinced that this section opens questions that need to be examined in applying nanomaterials as a water treatment strategy, it is a good read and informative.

The chapter ends (p. 18) with "...similar materials perhaps suitably treated or impregnated with nanotechnology-based methods, could filter more effectively and thereby increase the health benefits."

This leads us to chapter 3: Nanotechnology and Water. There follows an informed discussion on nanofiltration membrane technology, carbon nanotube filters, some reclamation technologies, esp. associated with waste water treatment, and sensors.There is a nearly complete review of technologies (p. 21). Filmtec's technology was used in the South African study. There is a break review of attapulgite clays zeolites and nanoporous polymers as well. The technology used in the study was portable (p. 23).

My only complaint is that the report goes into toxicology (pp. 29-33) and does a rather shallow job at it but that is not the focus of the report.

I enjoyed the observation that "the physical properties of water of smell, taste, and color or appearance are most crucial in assessing water quality than chemical and microbial properties in rural communities" (p. 34 and 120f). I am sure there results are not exclusive to rural areas and they suggest there are heuristics at work which would problematize toxicological communication algorithms.

The report makes some strong conclusions on capacity building (p. 34), actually they are coded as requirements: (1) a comprehensive informative educational program on methodologies and benefits of water treatment and (2) involving the community in all stages of the project, e.g., training operators to instill community ownership and to reduce vandalism and theft.

Chapter 4 reviews the case study and reports the results which were promising.

On UNESCO Ethics and Politics of Nanotechnology

UNESCO, The Ethics and Politics of Nanotechnology, 2006, 22 pp.
http://portal.unesco.org/shs/en/ev.php-URL_ID=9648&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

The introduction begins with hyperbole on the impacts of nano drawn unabashedly from press reports, such as: "nanotechnology could ... spell the end of our very existence as human beings" (my personal favorite).

The complaint that begins the discussion on UNESCO and Nanotechnology is drawn from biopiracy issues in biotechnology and the plot of The Constant Gardener. It calls for an anticipatory approach to ethical issues and capacity building to improve public engagement. However, both of these imperatives are not articulated well and there is no plan to incorporate them into the current decision making matrix, so it is still the red pill or the blue pill.

The report does suggest that the norms of equity, justice, and fairness be used in making decisions over nano-policy, but again there is very little guidance. There are multiple references to GMOs and to asbestos as rhetorical flourishes and fear tags.

They discuss a knowledge divide (p. 13) and warn "communication between the experts and elites of a nation and the poorer and less well educated has grown less common." Personally, I think this is less true of nanotechnology than it was for other earlier technologies. Ever since the US federal government got into the business of science during the two World Wars, they seemed to have learned the relevance, if not important, of public support and built a lot of outreach and participation into the National Nanotechnology Initiative (Program) and transferred that duty to the National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office which has been doing a good job with some room for improvement.

There is a very interesting Table on p. 14. It lists the top ten applications of nanotechnology and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While I am unsure the selected application are the top ten, the association of technological development against the MDGs is useful in considering some of the needs and concerns of developing countries in the nanoworld.

On p. 16, there is a great quote. "[T]he normal course of health and safety reporting produces so many conflicting, and often incomprehensible warnings and approvals that it will be difficult to effectively communicate the precise risks of nanoparticles." TRUE. This problem needs to be addressed and soon. I just delivered an address at the International Society for the Study of Argumentation two weeks ago in Amsterdam on Intuitive Toxicology. In addition, to the paper being well received there were many discussion about how to approach heuristics and biases the public uses to understand toxicological information and how this has been complication by the new media (such as the Internet) than both attenuates and amplifies the information and by post normal science and other variables. A lot more on this later.

There is an under-enlightened discussion of intellectual property issues (p. 18) followed by an opaque recommendation: "...encourage--and amongst national governments, to require--open access to publicly funded research results and materials" (ibid). How to incentivize research in this paradigm is left unresolved and specific legislative or assembly driven actions at the national or international level is unaddressed.

Next page, "...the public need to be involved earlier and more often, in order to avoid the kind of backlash that accompanied the introduction of GM foods." NOT BUYING IT. Personally, I am a bit tired of this tirade without a scenario for backlash being articulated. Nanotechnology is not one building, one industry, etc., hence backlash is problematic. I would enjoy someone taking the time to string this out and discuss boycotts as well so we can have an informed debate without fear markers.

They add that there has been excessive classification associated with the "WAR" on terrorism, and they may be right. Information on nanoscience classified for "nefarious weapons" is not refutable because it has that conspiratorial undeniability thing working for it. This also applied to the use of nanothings by terrorists when the logic behind this has been rebutted elsewhere: cheaper, easier, and potentially less apocalyptic possibilities.

The report ends with arguing "grey goo" and "posthumanism" (p. 20) are distractions (more on this later) and "[n]anotechonlogy is at a crossroads" which while rhetorically interesting but... WHY?