No Nanotechnology Silver Lining

The topic for one of the First Lego League competitions in which my daughter participated, was “Nanotechnology”, a difficult topic, made more difficult by the lack of readily available information.

It took going directly to those doing the research and development to find any usable information in order to create the presentation required of every team. After interviewing scientists at Cambridge and Harvard, engaged in nanotechnology solar projects, it became obvious that nanotechnology scientists are a group divided. Profitability and the prestige of being the first in the market (thereby increasing chances of more funding) rallied against those who urged caution and testing before using the general public as guinea pigs.

Profitability seems to have won out over safety. Even when preliminary research showed nanoparticles caused brain damage to fish, or had a potential to cause environmental damage, nanoparticles were integrated in a wide variety of products, outdistancing the government’s ability to respond with EPA regulations or product labeling requirements.

Two years ago, silver nanoparticles were placed in and on a wide range of products, which most people have unknowingly used – lotions, sunscreens, for example. It is frustrating to watch what looks to be mad scientists repeating GMO and Monsanto’s manic desire to control the world food supply

But now, there may be added damage by silver nanoparticles released on food crops via sludge water treated with this new and unproven technology. The parallels to pasteurizations ability to destroy perfectly good milk is eerie, as well as extremely concerning.

Vanity, vanity.

Past nanotechnology posts:
Personal Care Products

Nanotechnology Overview

Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Case in point: story released last week through the University of Missouri

Too Much Technology May Be Killing Beneficial Bacteria

MU engineer concerned about environmental impact of silver nanoparticles in wastewater treatment

Too much of a good thing could be harmful to the environment. For years, scientists have known about silver’s ability to kill harmful bacteria and, recently, have used this knowledge to create consumer products containing silver nanoparticles.

Now, a University of Missouri researcher has found that silver nanoparticles also may destroy benign bacteria that are used to remove ammonia from wastewater treatment systems. The study was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Several products containing silver nanoparticles already are on the market, including socks containing silver nanoparticles designed to inhibit odor-causing bacteria and high-tech, energy-efficient washing machines that disinfect clothes by generating the tiny particles. The positive effects of that technology may be overshadowed by the potential negative environmental impact.

“Because of the increasing use of silver nanoparticles in consumer products, the risk that this material will be released into sewage lines, wastewater treatment facilities, and, eventually, to rivers, streams and lakes is of concern,” said Zhiqiang Hu, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in MU’s College of Engineering. “We found that silver nanoparticles are extremely toxic. The nanoparticles destroy the benign species of bacteria that are used for wastewater treatment. It basically halts the reproduction activity of the good bacteria.”

Hu said silver nanoparticles generate more unique chemicals, known as highly reactive oxygen species, than do larger forms of silver. These oxygen species chemicals likely inhibit bacterial growth. For example, the use of wastewater treatment “sludge” as land-application fertilizer is a common practice, according to Hu. If high levels of silver nanoparticles are present in the sludge, soil used to grow food crops may be harmed.

Hu is launching a second study to determine the levels at which the presence of silver nanoparticles become toxic. He will determine how silver nanoparticles affect wastewater treatment processes by introducing nanomaterial into wastewater and sludge. He will then measure microbial growth to determine the nanosilver levels that harm wastewater treatment and sludge digestion.

The Water Environment Research Foundation recently awarded Hu $150,000 to determine when silver nanoparticles start to impair wastewater treatment. Hu said nanoparticles in wastewater can be better managed and regulated. Work on the follow-up research should be completed by 2010.

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