The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) has just released its Risk Assessment of Products of Nanotechnologies. In light of shocking new studies last year finding that carbon nanotubes that look like asbestos fibres also pose asbestos-like health risks, the SCENIHR draws particular attention to the risks of carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are now used commercially in electronics, specialty car and aeroplane parts, reinforced plastics and polymers, fuel filters and sports equipment. However it also warns that other nanomaterials such as nanowires that share the fibre like properties of asbestos are likely to also pose similar health problems.
Joining environmental and social justice campaigners, farmers, Indigenous Peoples, unionists, students, academics and thousands of others, FoE United States nanotechnology and health campaigner Ian Illuminato blogs from the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil, where the world's first Science and Democracy forum has just taken place: http://www.foe.org/wsf_blog
Plans by a German and Indian research team to dump iron particles in the sea off Chile in the latest 'geo-engineering' ocean fertilisation attempt have triggered serious concern. If you're interested in finding out more about the controversial field of 'geo-engineering', try reading Alan Robock's excellent overview of the field in "20 reasons why geo-engineering is a bad idea", published in the May/June 2008 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Another interesting exploration of the issues is in Australian ABC Radio National's background briefing "The climate engineers", transcript below.
"Geo-engineering" is a controversial new field where nanotechnology is proposed to artificially manipulate the natural climate to counter the threats of global warming. In the past, the field has attracted scathing criticism from scientists for its high risk techno-fix tactics. However in a disturbing recent survey by The Independent newspaper, just over a majority of 80 surveyed scientists said that given international failure to curb carbon dioxide emissions, they now support the use of geo-engineering to respond to climate change.
I was recently invited to participate in the 2nd Nanosafety Dialogue for Success, organised by the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers of the European Commission in October 2008 in Brussels. This was one of many dialogues occurring in many countries. Sometimes it may appear, from a civil society point of view, that we could spend all our time travelling and dialoguing: but what do we have to show for this?
An undergraduate team focused exclusively on the ethical, environmental, economic, social and legal (E3LS) aspects of synthetic biology has won a bronze medal at the international Genetic Engineering Machine/ synthetic biology competition (iGEM). The team, from the University of Calgary, were the first team to focus exclusively on the E3LS issues at iGEM. For more information visit their wiki site http://2008.igem.org/Team:Calgary_Ethics.
There is enormous public support for investment in sustainable, renewable energy alternatives to coal or nuclear power. There is also growing support for 'green' substitution of toxic chemicals. But all too often industry and governments are prepared to promote new (or old) technologies with a thick veneer of 'greenwash', presenting them as environmental saviours despite evidence of serious environmental risks or challenges. The green hype around nanotechnology fits this pattern.