Nanotechnology, the science of working with or creating materials 1 nanometer(a billionth of a meter) large, holds amazing promise for the future, but some studies are suggesting some of these tiny particles can be added to the long list of items that cause cancer.
Nanotechnology has already led to improvements in products from golf clubs to beer bottles. In the future, scientists hope to be able to build tiny machines using nanotechnology that they believe could revolutionize the world.
Dr. Harry Kroto, a leader in nanotechnology research, believes that nanotechnology’s benefits outweigh its risks. “We should recognize that there will be mistakes, and there will be hazards. On the other had, there’s a possibility that the value of nanotechnology will be overwhelming. For me, it is the science of the 21st century.”
Some scientists are just beginning to explore the possible health effects of exposure to nanoparticles. While there have been no long term studies, there are some short-term studies with somewhat worrying results. Fish who ingest even a small number of carbon nanoparticles were far more likely to develop brain cancer. Breathing in carbon nanotubes caused lung problems similar to asbestos exposure in rats.
Health scientist John Balbus, of the public policy group Environmental Defense, said: “There’s no reason to think that all of these things are going to be harmful, but we should be prudent because of their ability to get into the body and access parts of it that normal chemicals don’t.”
Environmental groups want regulations to keep pace with nanotech research. Ian Illuminato, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said: “We’re calling on government to invest more money in health, safety, and environmental research so that we can make sure these products are safe.”
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