Monday, April 10, 2006

Curing Cancer and Killing Workers: Media Coverage of Nano

Recent news coverage of nanotech is torn between framing the new technology as a breakthrough technology and emphasizing its hidden dangers. The “curing cancer” frame competes with “nanotech workers as lab rats,” reminiscent of the lax stance that U.S. regulatory bodies took in the past on issues, such as asbestos.

Here are two recent examples:

Study uses nanoparticles to kill cancer cells
By Joanne Morrison (Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Researchers have found a way to target cancer cells by injecting tiny particles that will attack only the diseased cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed, according to a study released on Monday.

A team of researchers working at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston laced tiny particles with lethal doses of chemotherapy and when injected they targeted cancer cells alone.

(For the full story, click here.)

Nanotech workers are lab rats in experiment with no controls
By Rick Weiss (The Washington Post)

RENO, Nev. - To tour the gleaming offices of Altair Nanotechnologies Inc. is to see why the U.S. Commerce Department calls nanotech "the next industrial revolution" -- a revolution not of smelters and smokestacks but of precision-engineered carbon "buckyballs" one-ten-thousandth the size of the head of a pin and microscopic nanospheres that can pack the power of a car battery in a napkin-thin wafer.

But in the heart of Altair's manufacturing area, the future looks a lot like the past. […]

Men in grease-stained blue coats navigate catwalks atop hulking, two-story-tall spray-drying machines. Forklift drivers steer 55-gallon drums of chemicals. Workers' face masks gather a film of pale dust as they empty buckets of freshly made powders to be used in batteries and premium paints.

Thousands of workers like these are participants in an occupational health experiment.

(For the full story, click here.)