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Nanotechnology

By HHI Staff

Nanotechnology describes the creation and use of materials, devices and systems which control matter at the atomic or molecular level or “nanoscale”. Matter manipulated at nanoscale exhibits unique physical, chemical and biological properties. In terms of relative size, a nanometer is equal to one-billionth of a meter.

 

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Nanotechnology research is ongoing across scientific disciplines and has the potential for significant impact in medicine, engineering, transportation, manufacturing, scientific discovery and environmental solutions.

While many groundbreaking applications for nanotechnology are decades away, manufacturers of consumer and household goods have introduced a wide variety of products containing nanomaterials. Products containing nanosilver, a substance with antibacterial properties, include everything from vacuum cleaners, upholstery, paint, tile, wood sealer, lighting, computer keyboards, aluminum foil and pots and pans.

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnology, funded by the PEW Charitable Trusts, has documented more than 1,000 nano-related consumer products already on the market, with four to six new products released each week.  

While this may be a good sign for manufacturers, it is also a cause of public concern. As it stands now, very little research has been done on what impact regular use of nano-related products will have on human health. Safety issues regarding nano products are not currently regulated by any federal agency nor has there been progress on legislation which would govern oversight. 

A major health concern relates to tiny size of nanoparticles and their potential to pass through skin, cells, mucous membranes and organs. A recent study has shown nanoparticles may be damaging to DNA. Carbon nanotubes, a resilient material already in wide spread use, have asbestos-like fibers which may penetrate and damage lungs. 

Nanosilver, being used in everything from fabric softeners to self-cleaning glass, raises concerns about the increasing presence of antibacterial chemicals in the average household and the impact this may have on bacterial mutation and antibiotic resistance.

A partial list of consumer goods currently on the market which contain nanoparticles includes:

  • Appliances: refrigerators, air conditioners, air purifiers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, phones and televisions
  • Textiles: sheets, blankets, pillow, towels, throws, pet beds, upholstery and mattress coatings
  • Cleaning supplies: all purpose cleaners, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, surface cleaners, disinfectants, tile cleaners, floor cleaners and degreasers and furniture sealers  
  • Construction materials: interior and exterior paints, wood and concrete sealers, self-cleaning glass, lighting, toilets, epoxy and bonding agents
  • Computers: processors, display screens, keyboards and other components
  • Kitchen products and utensils: antibacterial kitchen and tableware, pots and pans, storage containers, plastic wrap and storage bags, aluminum foil, cutting boards and baby bottles
  • Optical cleaners: used on television, computer and cell phone displays and camera lenses
  • Personal care products: soaps, toothpaste, sunscreen, makeup and anti-aging creams.

A list of known nano-related products currently on the market can be found at:

http://www.nanotechproject.org

 

Sources:

Nanoscale Science, Technology and Engineering Subcommittee
Nanotechnology and the Environment
Report of the Nanotechnology Initiative

 

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Nanotechnology:  Created on December 20th, 2009.  Last Modified on January 23rd, 2010

 

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