Nanotoxicity is NOT Nano-Safety

There are a number of comments and articles currently floating around that push the importance of Nanotoxicity.  First, I will raise my typical question.  Why does anyone care about a billionth toxicity?  To me, that sounds like something that is very safe.  When the prefix, in this case “nano”, is attached to a word, it is a modifier and changes the value of what it is modifying.  One can assume, but that is an assumption, that nanotoxicity actually is referring to nanomaterial toxicity or nanotechnology toxicity, but that requires making an assumption.

Toxicity refers to degree that a substance, chemical, material, etc., can create damage to an organism.  This impact can be on the entire organism or to a small subcomponent of it.  A key concept is that the effects are dose-dependent.  Everything can be dangerous when taken in too great a dose.  However, the opposite is also true.  There is a dose below which there is no observable effect.  This is true for chemical, biological, and other material (physical) items.  Consequently, toxicity addresses the effects based on predetermined doses.

Safety refers to “being safe.”  This implies that safety addresses situations where “non-safety” or harm could results.  It covers everything from personal safety (as in exposing one to dangerous situation where harm could occur) to providing a methodology for ensuring that any activity engaged in will not cause the individual (or environment) harm.  An example is “fire safety” where guidelines are created to prevent the occurrence of unwanted fire situation to the methodology to address the removal of an unwanted fire occurrence.

Nano-Safety or Nanotechnology Safety addresses the concept that considers the processes and procedures required to provide protection to people and the environment from possible applications that could involve a nanotechnology hazard.  The primary issue is that whether something is or is not a hazard may not be known for a number of years.  Consequently, the development of nano-safety education requires the development of methodologies that provide guidance in addressing situations where the material and its possible impact are unknown.  This can be likened to training people to fight various types of fires.  First one classifies the fire type, which then categorizes the possible methods to address the fire elimination.  A similar methodology is being developed in the courses at Texas State University, which was mentioned in a previous blog.

Nano-Toxicity is important to determine the potential issues with various nanomaterials and other nanothings.  The issue is that there is not sufficient time available to perform all the tests.  Since material properties change in the lower double digit nanometer range, how does one determine that the situation being addressed contains 30 nm aluminum particles and not 45 nm ones?  Since there can be many differences in the material size in a mixture, it is best to develop general procedures and apply them.  Nano-Toxicity is not Nano-Safety, but only a small component that can be employed in developing the Nano-Safety effort.

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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