It’s been a while since nanotechnology safety was featured in this blog.  This blog has previously mentioned the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) regarding the talc in their talcum powder.  The contention was that there was asbestos in the talc employed by J&J which caused the women’s illness.   There is one source identified that definitely has asbestos material.  The first award in that case was made despite the J&J claimed that they had not used talc from that source and the fact that the woman could not remember if she ever used the J&J product.   Recently, Bayer AG lost a case with a $2B award to two claimants who developed cancer that was caused by Bayer’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer. (Ref. 1) This award was despite the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that there are no risks to public health from the current registered uses of glyphosate.

So what does this have to do with Nano-Safety?  There are so many unknowns with nanomaterials, that the long-term effects are not fully comprehended.  As diagnostic science improves, there will be more potential issues found.  Add to the litigation increases and the vast unknowns, there are a number of reports where “scientific mischief” occurs.  (This phenomenon has been covered in previous blogs.)  The only practical method to attempt to mitigate negative consequences of working with nanomaterials is to implement a comprehensive program of nanotechnology safety.

Given the fact that the understanding of Nano-Safety requires a complete knowledge of material properties, particle behavior, toxicity, impact on the environment, proper handling and protection, etc., the ability to meet all these conditions does not exist.  Therefore, it becomes necessary to develop an approach to ensure that proper procedures are established and maintained, worker safety is provided and routinely checked, equipment is appropriate for the task and monitored, etc., which requires a planned approach.  The initial White Paper on Nano-Safety (Ref. 2) characterized four areas to be addresses: 1) Material Properties; 2) Impact on People and the Environment; 3) Handling of Nanomaterials; and 4) Business Focus.  A synopsis of the key thoughts in the White Paper is in the next few paragraphs.

Understanding Material Properties requires knowledge of what properties need to be investigated.  That is a challenge since the properties are unknown.  A recent report indicated that a twisted layer of graphene demonstrated some magnetic storage potential.   So where does one start?  The need is to begin with the obvious challenges, like size or shape, that are similar to know issues and the continually explore research  to obtain knowledge of new properties.

The key objective is evaluating the Impact on People and the Environment.  The is non-trivial and will not be accurately understood in the new future.  That is why the next section becomes critical.  The evaluation of workers before, during, and after leaving their nanotechnology efforts is accomplished to provide long term learning of potential effects. 

Proper Handling of Nanomaterials is the only means to work with materials with unknown properties.  Procedures need to be established and followed.  Monitoring of storage, usage, and disposal of nanomaterials needs to be treated as if everything unknown is potentially hazardous. 

The Business Focus is important.  The organization needs to protect its personnel.  Typically, this is done by instituting established guidelines.  While there are some guidelines, in general, the guidelines can not cover all unknowns.  This requires continual monitoring and record keeping. 

Even doing everything possible does not guarantee that everyone and everything will be safe.  It does provide a basis for protecting people and the environment.  With continual updates to procedures, this process will minimize potential risks.  An Attitude of Nano-Safety is required.


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About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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