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Nanotechnology safety issues resonate

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Nanotechnology deals with structures sized between 1 to 100 nanometer in at least one dimension, and involves developing materials or devices within that size. Manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale raises questions about toxicity and impact on the environment. There is no definite answer on this issue, and the lack of knowledge generates insecurity about its use and possible future side effects.

“This is an active area of research,” says Professor Juan P. Hinestroza, head of the Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. “So far what I have seen is that there is not a negative effect, but we scientists need to have absolute evidence. Many of the nano particles, when they are outside of the substrate, conglomerate into bigger particles. When they do that the human body is able to recognize them and there are mechanisms to fight them. The issue is when the particles are too small and we don’t understand how the cells interact with them. When they are fixed to the substrate, there is no problem. The problem is when they detach.”

The potential risks associated with nano-related textile products and processes are an ongoing issue that will have to be dealt with, both in the scientific community and within government agencies.

Barb Ernster is a freelance writer based in Fridley, Minn.

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