Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Nano risk for insurance companies

Allianz Gruppe International, a multi-national isurance company, just released a study highlighting the need for future research on the societal implications of nanotechnology. And while the report provides an excellent overview of many of the important issues surrounding nanotechnology, the insurers’ motivations, of course, are not entirely selfless. According to the report, most insurers

“… agree that the insurance industry is going to have to live with the uncertainties of nanotechnology related risks for a longer period of time and that it will not be able to quantify the probability of potential losses occurring and their possible extent.

In principle, many lines of business are considered to be potentially affected, including:
• Workers’ compensation,
• General and products liability
• Products recall,
• Environmental liability,
• Property (dust cloud explosion).

It is assumed that if health effects from certain engineered nanoparticles become ever manifest and causation can be established, then series of claims will almost certainly follow.”

(Click here for a PDF version of the full report.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Finally: Nano storage boxes for your Flavr Savr tomatoes

The Wall Street Journal reported on various new products today, including a line of plastic food containers, that are infused with silver nanoparticles that serve as antimicrobial agents and help keep food fresher and laundry cleaner.

“About three years ago, consumer products incorporating silver as an antimicrobial ingredient -- some made using nanotechnology to bond materials at a molecular level -- took off in Asia. Now some observers believe they are poised to become big in the U.S.

'Silver nanoparticles may very well become the next 'it' product, much like antibacterial soaps that took the consumer sector by storm a decade ago,' says Marlene Bourne, president of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Bourne Research, which specializes in emerging technologies.”

The strategy of using nanoparticles to fight microbes, of course, builds on the same qualities of nanoparticles that potentially make them more toxic to humans as well.

“[T]he proliferation of silver-containing products is raising some concerns among state and federal environmental regulators because silver is highly toxic to aquatic life. (It isn't toxic to humans except in large quantities that aren't at issue when it comes to these consumer products.)

"The whole contaminant issue is starting to explode in our face and we need to look and study it further," says a spokeswoman for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, a nonprofit association of wastewater and drinking water plants in Washington.

In a February letter, the organization asked the Environmental Protection Agency to review consumer products containing silver ions and to consider registering them as pesticides. The group's letter to the agency cited the silver ions that will be discharged into sewer systems when clothing is washed in Samsung's new machine.

The EPA's office of pesticide programs says it is studying the matter. A Samsung manager in the U.S. referred questions to the electronics giant's headquarters in Seoul. Officials there couldn't be reached.

Another broad question is whether resistant strains of bacteria could emerge if the market were flooded with silver nanoparticles.

Silver, in the form of a metal or as dissolved ions, fights microorganisms by interfering with processes such as how they breathe and reproduce. Tests show that silver ions kill microorganisms ranging from harmful strains of e. coli that cause food-borne diseases to the staphylococcus bacteria responsible for serious infections.

The metal becomes more active against microbes when it's made into small particles because they can cover more surface area when they come into direct contact with bacteria, says Andrew Maynard, a physicist and chief scientific adviser to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.”

Consumers don’t seem to care too much yet. Sharper Image sells the food containers, for example, through their store. Here’s the FreshLonger product description from

"End the expense and frustration of tossing out costly food that has spoiled or grown "furry" much too quickly. With FresherLonger Miracle Food Storage containers, infused with naturally antibacterial silver nanoparticles, it's easy to keep foods fresher three or even four times longer: fruits, vegetables, herbs, breads, cheeses, soups, sauces and meats! Try FresherLonger and prove to yourself what we proved to ourselves in our own homes when we discovered these Miracle Food Storage containers. This 12-piece FresherLonger set will quickly pay for itself just in thrown-away raspberries and you'll enjoy food that maintains its color, flavor and nutritional values much longer.Naturally antibacterial.FresherLonger containers are infused with silver nanoparticles because silver (yes, the metal found in silverware) is safe and naturally anti-germ, anti-mold and anti-fungus. In tests comparing FresherLonger to conventional containers, the 24-hour growth of bacteria inside FresherLonger containers was reduced by over 98 percent because of the silver nanoparticles! Airtight storage.FresherLonger containers feature an airtight silicone-gasket locking system and containers made of air- and odor-impermeable polypropylene. They also are very easy to open and close. The containers are spillproof, shatterproof and safe for the dishwasher, microwave, fridge and freezer. Stop wasting food! Set includes 12 pieces. 90-day warranty."

Says one reviewer: "That silver nano stuff really works!"

News Flashback: 1999 Nano World Cup to France

After winning the 1998 FIFA World Cup in their home country, France was awarded the Nano World Cup by German and Italian chemists in 1999 (Of course, France was subsequently eliminated at the group stage in World Cup 2002 in South Korea.):

“The molecular replica is three nanometres high, compared to the real trophy's 36 cm height. It is made from two molecules which the researchers were studying and realised could be put together to mimic soccer's top prize.
A football-shaped molecule called a buckminsterfullerene (or C60) forms the top of the tiny trophy with a bowl-shaped molecule called a calixarene supporting it.”

(click here for the complete article from BBC on February 3, 1999.)

With the kick-off for World Cup 2006 only 4 days away, this seemed like a relevant piece of news to repost on nano|public. The FIFA World Cup is the world’s largest sports event and dwarves events like the the Super Bowl with a cumulative audience of about 30 billion viewers in 2002 and about 20% of the world’s population watching games.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Beyond (Skin) Science: Oprah goes nanotech

Endorsements on the Oprah Show have apparently helped Beyond Skin Science, a cosmetic start-up, dramatically increase their sales, The Business Press reported this month:

"Beyond Skin Science in Corona is betting national attention for its nano-science based anti-aging products will help the fledgling firm grow 10-fold this year.
The company is not yet two years old, but the results of products that blend skin care elements on the molecular scale reaped an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey television show in November. Company President Paul Ferron left numerous telephone messages for Winfrey's makeup artist, Reggie Wells, earlier in the year. He offered Wells samples of the product and testimonials from customer Ananda Lewis of syndicated television show "The Insider." Wells finally tried the Beyond Skin Science Eternalis line and recommended the products on Oprah.
Wells extols the Beyond Skin Science Eternalis line on the show's Web site along with cosmetics from various companies."
(click here for the complete article.)

Two aspects of this story are particularly interesting. The first one is the company name: Beyond Skin Science. I am not sure that the “beyond science” part is a particularly smart label, given the increasing level of unease among some experts and members of the public about the potential toxic nature of certain nanoparticles (see nano|public posting from May 17, 2006) and the lack of publicly available scientific research on the safety of commercial products.

The second interesting aspect to this story is the “Nanochem Certified Formula” seal that the company uses on their web site. The seal, along with links to the National Nanotech initiative and other agencies, is obviously intended to build credibility with consumers. Of course, Magic Nano’s TÜV stickers were used with the same purpose in mind and ended up doing more harm then good when they came under closer scrutiny.