Miami (Fla.) Herald (Mexico Edition)
December 31, 2005


By Talli Nauman, El Universal

We've become conditioned to accepting invisible threats to our
environment and health. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, we've
learned to take for granted that toxic fumes from production will
corrode living tissues and cause cancer deaths, for example. It's way
past time we wake up to the essential need to prevent the
proliferation of risky materials. This is particularly true now with
the advent of the nanotechnology revolution, possibly the era of most
sweeping innovation in history.

If ever an invisible threat loomed, nanotechnology is it.
Nanotechnology is the science of creating new substances by
manipulating the atoms and molecules of materials. It produces
engineered particles so tiny they amount to no more than 1/80,000th of
the diameter of a human hair.

But it is not splitting hairs to argue that we will be better off if
the effects of these itty bitty inventions are better known before we
allow them to continue being unleashed in the consumer market without

Some of the nigh-onto-miraculous unmarked stuff in which they already
substitute for natural ingredients are: sporting goods, stain-
resistant fabrics, food packaging, pesticides, sunscreen, and
cosmetics. The problem is that their unprecedented electrical,
chemical and physical properties are so perplexing, more study is
needed to understand their impact.


You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand the concept of
nanomaterials and the ethical challenges they pose. Yet, interestingly
enough, it is scientists themselves who are leading the campaign to
keep tabs on the spread of products derived through nanotechnology.

Evidence is mounting that the artificial nano-particles can be
hazardous to production workers and to the environment when they break
down in the waste stream. The modified atoms kill both waterborne bugs
and soil-dwelling micro-organisms. They have caused fatalities in lab
rodents and brain damage to fish, as well. They generate free
radicals, which can be precursors of cancer, and also can harm DNA.

Questions are being raised about immune systems' ability to detect and
react appropriately to the custom-made molecules. Still other gaps in
research must be filled in order for us to grasp the broader
implications of spreading nanomaterials. Their popularity among big
producers could displace farmers and other suppliers of traditional
manufacturing inputs. The connotations of test-tube biodiversity and
intellectual property patenting are among conundrums.

Those are some of the reasons why the week ahead marks the end of a
comment period for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its
recommendations for nanotechnology policy. An expert review of the
comments will conclude with the release of suggestions for regulatory
measures early in 2006.


In Mexico City, award-winning Canadian biotechnology pioneer Pat
Mooney recently drew attention to the issue, saying, "More than a new
wave of technology, nanotechnology is a technological tsunami, unseen
until it is upon us." His observation seems particularly apt at this
juncture, the first anniversary of the Indian Ocean tidal wave that
heralded the year of 2005.

With 720 nano-engineered products on the market that have no
regulation, Mooney and colleagues at the international Erosion,
Technology and Concentration (ETC) Group advocate public participation
in debate to address the unprecedented panorama.

Along with Mexican and other experts around the world, Mooney
advocates a moratorium on further commercialization of nanomaterials
until these articles can be investigated more. That is just plain good
sense and application of the U.N. precautionary principle.

Mexico should jump on the moratorium bandwagon right now.

Talli Nauman is a founder and co-director of Journalism to Raise
Environmental Awareness, a project initiated with support from the
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. She is the Americas
Program Associate at the International Relations Center.

2005 Copyright El Universal-El Universal Online, Mexico.