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Guide Nanotechnology & Society: Current and Emerging Ethical Issues

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In addressing the health and environmental impact of nanomaterials we need to differentiate between two types of nanostructures: 1 Nanocomposites, nanostructured surfaces and nanocomponents electronic, optical, sensors etc. There seems to be consensus that, although one should be aware of materials containing fixed nanoparticles, the immediate concern is with free nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are very different from their everyday counterparts, so their adverse effects cannot be derived from the known toxicity of the macro-sized material.

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This poses significant issues for addressing the health and environmental impact of free nanoparticles. To complicate things further, in talking about nanoparticles it is important that a powder or liquid containing nanoparticles almost never be monodisperse, but contain instead a range of particle sizes.

This complicates the experimental analysis as larger nanoparticles might have different properties from smaller ones. Also, nanoparticles show a tendency to aggregate, and such aggregates often behave differently from individual nanoparticles. The health impacts of nanotechnology are the possible effects that the use of nanotechnological materials and devices will have on human health. As nanotechnology is an emerging field, there is great debate regarding to what extent nanotechnology will benefit or pose risks for human health.

Nanotechnology's health impacts can be split into two aspects: the potential for nanotechnological innovations to have medical applications to cure disease, and the potential health hazards posed by exposure to nanomaterials. Nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology. Nanomedicine seeks to deliver a valuable set of research tools and clinically helpful devices in the near future. Further down the line, the speculative field of molecular nanotechnology believes that cell repair machines could revolutionize medicine and the medical field.

Nanomedicine research is directly funded, with the US National Institutes of Health in funding a five-year plan to set up four nanomedicine centers. In April , the journal Nature Materials estimated that nanotech-based drugs and delivery systems were being developed worldwide. Nanotoxicology is the field which studies potential health risks of nanomaterials. The extremely small size of nanomaterials means that they are much more readily taken up by the human body than larger sized particles.

How these nanoparticles behave inside the organism is one of the significant issues that needs to be resolved. The behavior of nanoparticles is a function of their size, shape and surface reactivity with the surrounding tissue. Apart from what happens if non-degradable or slowly degradable nanoparticles accumulate in organs, another concern is their potential interaction with biological processes inside the body: because of their large surface, nanoparticles on exposure to tissue and fluids will immediately adsorb onto their surface some of the macromolecules they encounter.

This may, for instance, affect the regulatory mechanisms of enzymes and other proteins. The large number of variables influencing toxicity means that it is difficult to generalise about health risks associated with exposure to nanomaterials — each new nanomaterial must be assessed individually and all material properties must be taken into account.

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Health and environmental issues combine in the workplace of companies engaged in producing or using nanomaterials and in the laboratories engaged in nanoscience and nanotechnology research. It is safe to say that current workplace exposure standards for dusts cannot be applied directly to nanoparticle dusts. NIOSH currently offers interim guidelines for working with nanomaterials consistent with the best scientific knowledge.

Other properties of nanomaterials that influence toxicity include: chemical composition, shape, surface structure, surface charge, aggregation and solubility, [14] and the presence or absence of functional groups of other chemicals.

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Literature reviews have been showing that release of engineered nanoparticles and incurred personal exposure can happen during different work activities. The environmental impact of nanotechnology is the possible effects that the use of nanotechnological materials and devices will have on the environment. Nanotechnology's environmental impact can be split into two aspects: the potential for nanotechnological innovations to help improve the environment, and the possibly novel type of pollution that nanotechnological materials might cause if released into the environment.


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Green nanotechnology refers to the use of nanotechnology to enhance the environmental sustainability of processes producing negative externalities. It also refers to the use of the products of nanotechnology to enhance sustainability. It includes making green nano-products and using nano-products in support of sustainability.

Green nanotechnology has been described as the development of clean technologies , "to minimize potential environmental and human health risks associated with the manufacture and use of nanotechnology products, and to encourage replacement of existing products with new nano-products that are more environmentally friendly throughout their lifecycle. Green nanotechnology has two goals: producing nanomaterials and products without harming the environment or human health, and producing nano-products that provide solutions to environmental problems.

It uses existing principles of green chemistry and green engineering [21] to make nanomaterials and nano-products without toxic ingredients, at low temperatures using less energy and renewable inputs wherever possible, and using lifecycle thinking in all design and engineering stages. Nanopollution is a generic name for all waste generated by nanodevices or during the nanomaterials manufacturing process. Nanowaste is mainly the group of particles that are released into the environment, or the particles that are thrown away when still on their products.

Beyond the toxicity risks to human health and the environment which are associated with first-generation nanomaterials, nanotechnology has broader societal impact and poses broader social challenges.

Impact of nanotechnology

Social scientists have suggested that nanotechnology's social issues should be understood and assessed not simply as "downstream" risks or impacts. Rather, the challenges should be factored into "upstream" research and decision-making in order to ensure technology development that meets social objectives [22]. Many social scientists and organizations in civil society suggest that technology assessment and governance should also involve public participation. Over nano-related patents were granted in , with numbers increasing to nearly 19, internationally by For example, two corporations, NEC and IBM , hold the basic patents on carbon nanotubes , one of the current cornerstones of nanotechnology.

Carbon nanotubes have a wide range of uses, and look set to become crucial to several industries from electronics and computers, to strengthened materials to drug delivery and diagnostics. Carbon nanotubes are poised to become a major traded commodity with the potential to replace major conventional raw materials. Nanotechnologies may provide new solutions for the millions of people in developing countries who lack access to basic services, such as safe water, reliable energy, health care, and education. The UN Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation noted that some of the advantages of nanotechnology include production using little labor, land, or maintenance, high productivity, low cost, and modest requirements for materials and energy.

Longer-term concerns center on the impact that new technologies will have for society at large, and whether these could possibly lead to either a post-scarcity economy, or alternatively exacerbate the wealth gap between developed and developing nations. The effects of nanotechnology on the society as a whole, on human health and the environment, on trade, on security, on food systems and even on the definition of "human", have not been characterized or politicized. Significant debate exists relating to the question of whether nanotechnology or nanotechnology-based products merit special government regulation.

This debate is related to the circumstances in which it is necessary and appropriate to assess new substances prior to their release into the market, community and environment. So far, neither engineered nanoparticles nor the products and materials that contain them are subject to any special regulation regarding production, handling or labelling. The Material Safety Data Sheet that must be issued for some materials often does not differentiate between bulk and nanoscale size of the material in question and even when it does these MSDS are advisory only.

Limited nanotechnology labeling and regulation may exacerbate potential human and environmental health and safety issues associated with nanotechnology. Marla Felcher suggests that the Consumer Product Safety Commission , which is charged with protecting the public against unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with consumer products, is ill-equipped to oversee the safety of complex, high-tech products made using nanotechnology. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Impact of nanotechnology - Wikipedia

Part of a series of articles on the Impact of nanotechnology Health and safety Hazards Nanomedicine Nanotoxicology Carbon nanomaterials Environmental Green nanotechnology Energy applications Pollution Other topics Applications Industrial applications Societal impact Regulation Science portal Technology portal v t e. This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. June Learn how and when to remove this template message. This section needs more medical references for verification or relies too heavily on primary sources.

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June Play media. Main article: Nanomedicine. Main article: Nanotoxicology. Main article: Green nanotechnology. Main article: Nanomaterials pollution. Main article: Societal impact of nanotechnology. Main article: Regulation of nanotechnology. United States National Nanotechnology Initiative. Retrieved 4 June Freitas Jr. Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine. Global Issues. Barker, Leili Fatehi, Michael T.

Lesnick, Timothy J. Mealey, Rex R. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Textbooks. Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Temporarily Out of Stock Online Please check back later for updated availability. Product Details Table of Contents. Michelson and David Rejeski;.

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