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Researchers investigate environmental impact of nanotechnology

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It’s not quite like the self-replicating nanobots that threaten humanity on “Star Gate,” but the predictions of nanotech-inspired technological leaps are often countered by warnings from scientific, health and environmental organizations about the possible dangers of nanotechnology that haven’t yet been fully explored.

One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. What if we breathe in these particles, or take them in through our skin? What happens to our air, water, plants, fish and animals if these particles are loosed upon an unsuspecting ecosphere?

In Europe, the Nanosafe2 project (www.nanosafe.org), funded by the European Commission with partners across industry and academia, regularly investigates and reports on the safe production and use of nanomaterials; BASF is one of the commercial partners in the project. In the United States, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech) is the leading federal agency conducting research and providing guidance on the saftey and health implications of nonotechnology.

Much of the concern may be merely speculative at this point, but if you’re providing nano-enhanced fabrics, or fabric products, to your customers, it’s probably a good idea to be able to answer any questions or allay any safety concerns they may have. As Andrew D. Maynard, chief science advisor for the Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, puts it: “What is really important is making sure that the materials and new products that are already being developed by the indsutry are as safe as possible, and that we don’t create a legacy of harm that future generations will have to clear up.”

Galynn Nordstrom is editor of Specialty Fabrics Review magazine.

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