Pesticide Nanotechnology on the Horizon: EPA Proposes First Policy
Nanotechnology, also known as molecular manufacturing (MM), is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. The comparative size of a nanometer to a meter is the same as that of a marble to the size of the earth. Developed in the 1980′s, nanotechnology is already being used in some areas, as in the manufacture of polymers- used to make plastic, concrete, glass, and rubber.
Nanotechnology allows products to be manufactured much more cheaply and is being used in the development of such environmentally-friendly products as solar panels. But as with the development of any new technology, there are potential ethical, health and environmental dangers as well.
Researchers have discovered that silver nanoparticles used in socks to reduce foot odor are being released in the wash with possible negative consequences. Silver nanoparticles, which are bacteriostatic, may destroy beneficial bacteria which are important for breaking down organic matter in waste treatment plants or farms.
A study at the University of Rochester found that when rats breathed in nanoparticles, the particles settled in the brain and lungs, which led to significant increases in biomarkers for inflammation and stress response. A study in China indicated that nanoparticles induce skin aging through oxidative stress in hairless mice.
A two-year study at UCLA’s School of Public Health found lab mice consuming nano-titanium dioxide showed DNA and chromosome damage to a degree “linked to all the big killers of man, namely cancer, heart disease, neurological disease and aging”.
A major study published more recently in Nature Nanotechnology suggests some forms of carbon nanotubes – a poster child for the “nanotechnology revolution” – could be as harmful as asbestos if inhaled in sufficient quantities. Anthony Seaton of the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, who contributed to the article on carbon nanotubes said, “We know that some of them probably have the potential to cause mesothelioma. So those sorts of materials need to be handled very carefully.” In the absence of specific nano-regulation forthcoming from governments, Paull and Lyons (2008) have called for an exclusion of engineered nanoparticles from organic food. A newspaper article reports that workers in a paint factory developed serious lung disease and nanoparticles were found in their lungs.
So this week, the United States EPA has introduced pre-publication policy describing several possible approaches for obtaining certain additional information on the composition of pesticide products. It focuses particularly on information about what nanoscale materials are present in registered pesticide products, and defines ‘nanoscale material’ as ‘an active or inert ingredient and any component parts thereof intentionally produced to have at least one dimension that measures between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers.’