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Scientists question possible nanotech risks
CNN Health, December 13, 2005
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (AP) — Those stain-resistant khakis you just
picked up at the mall, the tennis ball that holds its bounce longer and
sunscreen that’s clear instead of white have something in common —
Scientists manipulating matter at the molecular level have improved
on hundreds of everyday products in recent years and are promising
dramatic breakthroughs in medicine and other industries as billions of
dollars a year are pumped into the nascent sector.
But relatively little is known about the potential health and
environmental effects of the tiny particles — just atoms wide and
small enough to easily penetrate cells in lungs, brains and other
While governments and businesses have begun pumping millions of
dollars into researching such effects, scientists and others say
nowhere near enough is being spent to determine whether nanomaterials
pose a danger to human health.
Michael Crichton’s bestselling book “Prey” paints a doomsday scenario in
which a swarm of tiny nanomachines escapes the lab and threatens to
overwhelm humanity. Scientists believe the potential threat from
nanomaterials is more everyday than a sci-fi thriller, but no less serious.
Studies have shown that some of the most promising carbon nanoparticles —
including long, hollow nanotubes and sphere-shaped buckyballs — can be
toxic to animal cells. There are fears that exposure can cause breathing
problems, as occurs with some other ultrafine particles, that nanoparticles
could be inhaled through the nose, wreaking unknown havoc on brain cells, or
that nanotubes placed on the skin could damage DNA.
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