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This will not persuade Greenpeace

Good News. A new study, to be published in Environmental Science and Technology in November, has concluded that the manufacturing of specified nanomaterials such as buckyballs and quantum dots is safer than oil refining or making wine. This was based upon an actuarial model that Zurich based XL insurance have developed to assess risks in existing manufacturing processes. Using the model allowed an assessment of the ‘environmental footprint’ of potential nanomaterial manufacturing.

Using a method for assessing the premiums that companies pay for insurance, a team of scientists and insurance experts have concluded that the manufacturing processes for five, near-market nanomaterials — including quantum dots, carbon nanotubes and buckyballs — present fewer risks to the environment than some common industrial processes like oil refining. For two of the nanomaterials – nanotubes and alumoxane nanoparticles — manufacturing risks were comparable with those of making wine or aspirin.

This study does not provide assurances that there may be unknown risks with these nanomaterials.

In developing their risk assessments, the research team developed a detailed account of the input materials, output materials and waste streams for each process. Risk was qualitatively assessed for each process, based on factors including toxicity, flammability and persistence in the environment…

Mark Weisner, one of the co-authors of the study, concluded that,

“We can’t anticipate all of the details of how nanomaterials fabrication will evolve, but based on what we do know, the fabrication of the nanomaterials we considered appears to present lower risks than current industrial activities like petrochemical refining, polyethylene production and synthetic pharmaceutical production”

Let us remind ourselves of Greenpeace’s objective for nanotechnology – reseach directed towards their own chosen goals through government expenditure and a moratorium until the precautionary principle is satisfied.

Greenpeace believes that there may be some advantages in developments in some nanotechnologies. However, we are concerned that any value could be lost if the development processes governing nanotechnology does not prioritise environmental, public health and social goals, and is not sensitive to the needs and concerns of the public at an early stage. Indeed some nanotechnologies could become a real problem. At this stage it is too early to say what the specific problems or advantages might be – but the way nanotechnology develops will have a huge influence on whether the outcomes are good or bad.

We want to see a moratorium on the release of nanoparticles to the environment until evidence that it is safe (for the environment and human health) is clear. In the longer term nanotechnology could produce self-replicating ‘machines’ whose proliferation could be environmentally problematic.

The moratorium may sound innocuous until one realises that the standard of proof required by Greenpeace is never weighed against the potential benefits or lives saved with the earlier deployment of these technologies. The danger is that the tautology of social goals, governmental ownership and control of these technologies for the public good (as defined by Greenpeace), could hinder real progress such as private sector efforts to build the space elevator.

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1 comment to This will not persuade Greenpeace

  • Julian Morrison

    The whole nano panic is silly. Replicating nano already exists, it’s called “bacteria”. For exactly the same reasons that nobody expects bacteria to eat the world, you can expect that nano won’t, either. Energy and materials are just too scarce at those scales. Nanolife spends all its time scrounging fuel. Nanorobots without an external power source would do likewise.