Reading the news each morning takes raw courage. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is the media’s mantra. Disaster draws eyeballs and that means an uptick in readership numbers which can attract advertisers. Even though I understand the motive, I wonder if the media ever contemplates how this continual dirge affects the public’s morale.
The question concerns me, so I hesitate to bring up the dark side of nanotechnology. So far this is an area of human endeavor with lots of promise, particularly in the field of medicine. With nanotechnology, doctors can design and deliver drugs targeted to a specific area of the body, helping to defeat cancer and limiting its spread. As author Ryan Bradley points out, with this new tool in our arsenal we might even defeat one of our oldest and sometimes deadliest enemies, the virus. (“The Great Big Question About Really Tiny Materials,” by Ryan Bradley, Fortune, March 2015, pgs.192-202.)
As most of us know, nanotechnology deals with matter at the subatomic level, a place where physical laws differ from those in the world as we experience it. Nano-particles are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier and affect our DNA in some cases. (Ibid pg. 194) With them we can make foods taste salty using less of the condiment. We can pack more vitamins into smaller tablets. Nondairy products become creamier and candies less fattening. We can even insert them into face creams to plump up our crow’s feet and frown lines. Nano-particles are even being used to keep gym clothes from becoming smelly. (Ibid pg. 202)
The proliferation of these synthetic particles is causing some scientists to worry about their accumulated affect in our bodied, and some have called for more research on the subject. Unfortunately, the concern may have come too late as the manufacture of many of these nano-products has shifted to China and other countries beyond the US. Worse, it’s difficult to know which companies use nanotechnology because in this country the information is considered a trade secret. (Ibid pg. 198) The Environmental Protection Agency did release a report recently which stated “it had no idea what was going on with nanomaterials and was not equipped to regulate them.” (Ibid pg 201) That’s a worry because according to Bradley “…how an individual nanoparticle becomes toxic—what it does to a cell—is hard to predict and often varies from particle to particle.” (Ibid pg. 200.)
Nanotechnology continues to grow and in medicine, its use can seem to work miracles. But do we need it to sweeten our donuts? Or make our socks less fetid? Congress needs to formulate standards for this new technology because, at the moment, no one but the entrepreneurs are in charge.