By David Funkhouser
New Haven Independent (originally posted July 29, 2010)
You may already be carrying quantum dots, carbon nanotubes and nano-silver around in your pocket: They’re all around us, part of a new industrial revolution that feeds a market for products like cell phones and bug-repellent clothing that could reach $2.6 trillion worldwide by 2015.
The federal government is trying to drive this runaway train with one hand on the throttle and another on the brakes. One agency is calling for a greater push to get nano-based products to market, while another says the government needs to put more emphasis on developing health and environmental standards.
A new General Accounting Office study laments the lack of information about the properties of nanomaterials and their potential risks and toxicity to the environment and human health. The report urges the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move ahead with plans to gather information about how nanomaterials are being used in manufacturing, and to treat nanomaterials as essentially new chemicals that would require more extensive analysis than materials already in use.
By David Funkhouser — June 23, 2010
Nanotechnology may be an “emerging” science, but we’re already slathering its products on our skin, wearing them to go hiking and ingesting them in medicines and food. With more than 1,000 consumer items using nanomaterials already out there, a new California study urges government to take action to find out which ones might be dangerous and start getting them under control.
“We must determine the toxicity of molecules and nano particles before the public and workforce are exposed; otherwise citizens become experimental subjects,” said Carl Cranor, a professor at the University of California at Riverside and a member of the study’s science advisory panel.
The report, prepared by the University of California/San Francisco’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, recommends that state agencies try to speed up the regulatory process, and look at whether they can act under existing policies to put curbs on some materials, rather than waiting for new legislation.
By David Funkhouser — June 8, 2010
A Connecticut company that makes a line of what it labels “green” products for auto and marine use says it has just the thing for cleaning up the Gulf oil spill: A nanotech-based, biodegradable oil dispersant.
But a number of scientists and environmental groups are warning that the firm’s marine oil dispersant relies on nanoparticles in an untested formulation that could cause more harm than good.
Green Earth Technologies’ oil dispersant uses a detergent based on plant-based oils and other unspecified compounds.
Stamford-based Green Earth Technologies defends its products as harmless, and says a protest letter sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by environmental groups has unfairly characterized the company’s dispersant. The EPA, which has been flooded by suggestions for using various products, has basically told the company to get in line along with other companies proposing Gulf solutions.
“This company may be right on, we don’t know that,” said Penny Vlahos, assistant professor of marine science and chemistry at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point in Groton. “It’s good someone is asking questions, and it’s good they have to defend themselves.”
Millions of gallons of oil have gushed into the sea in the seven weeks since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, uncorking a well a mile below the surface. Efforts to fight the spill have included spreading more than a million gallons of oil dispersant.
Vlahos and two UConn colleagues are just back from a one-day conference in Baton Rouge at which 200 scientists in ocean and coastal research consulted with federal officials engaged in the oil cleanup. Vlahos described the Gulf crisis as “a bit of a feeding frenzy” for companies trying to promote their products and techniques for environmental cleanup.
Safe Water Network gives villagers in India a push toward a better future
By David Funkhouser
At a village meeting in Rajasthan, India, Ravindra Sewak of Safe Water Network
presented a challenge: We can help you build a new cistern that will improve
your water supply and your health, but you will have to pay for some of it, and
take over and maintain the system.
The villagers balked. In this desert land where just a few inches of water fall
each year, poverty rules. Typical annual incomes range from $1,000 to $1,600.
Women and children can walk several kilometers each day to fetch water for
drinking, cooking and cleaning. Dysentery is so common, Sewak said, it’s not
even considered a disease anymore.
Ravindra Sewak, Safe Water Network's India country director
With so few resources, how could they pay for this, and handle this new work? “I
had to leave at one point,” Sewak said, describing how he walked out of the
meeting to let the residents ponder the question before them. “You have to make
them believe that they have to maintain it. They need a sense of ownership and
willingness to pay so they can see the long-term vision and take responsibility. …
They need to contribute to make this work.”