Monday, March 31, 2008

Plastic or asbestos? Nano goes mainstream

PBS will air the first installment of their three-part series "Nanotechnology: The power of small" on April 2, 2008 (for an overview, see Mike Treder's post at Responsible Nanotechnology). And as far as a discussion of potential risks go, the program touches upon all the issues that our recent survey-based work identified as main concerns for the public (i.e., privacy) and for nano scientists (i.e., human health concerns and environmental risks).
"The series’ three programs explore critical questions about nanotechnology’s potential impact on privacy, the environment and human health: Will nanotechnology make you safer, or will it be used to track your every move? Will nanotechnology keep you young, and what happens if you live to be 150? Will nanotechnology help clean up the earth, or will it be the next asbestos?"

(Click here for the premiere event at the Project for Emerging Nanotechnologies.)
The program also sets the stage for the inevitable battle over the dominant frames in the emerging public debate about nanotechnology. Will it be the next asbestos or the next plastic? Is the right to privacy incompatible with the right to live and to find new cures for diseases? And what are the ethical concerns connected with pushing the envelope in terms of what is scientifically possible?

From the trailer, it seems that the the series gives short shrift to a key part of the equation: systematic, large-scale research that deals with what the public actually is concerned about, the potential benefits that citizens do see in the new technology, or potential informational gaps among different groups of the public and the role that media have played so far in (not) closing these gaps. Ironically, understanding how this debate does in fact influence or involve the public seems to be an afterthought at best for Public Broadcasting.
"The series begins airing on local public broadcasting stations in April 2008. [...] It is funded by NSF and the presenting station and grantee for the series is Oregon Public Broadcasting. The series is a “Fred Friendly Seminars” presentation with award-winning National Public Radio correspondent John Hockenberry as host."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nanosilver is back in the news ... and off the shelves, for now

From tomorrow's New York Times:
New Device for Germophobes Runs Into Old Law


With so many people worried about getting sick — whether from the common cold and flu or exotic new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — Paul and Jeffrey Metzger had every reason to hope that the germ-fighting key fob they invented would be a runaway hit.

Their device, known as the Handler, began selling last year online and in stores like Duane Reade pharmacies for about $11. It features a pop-out hook so germophobes can avoid touching A.T.M. keypads, door handles and other public surfaces where undesirable microbes may lurk. As added protection, the Handler’s rubber and plastic surfaces are impregnated with tiny particles of silver to kill germs that land on the device itself.

But those little silver particles have run Maker Enterprises, the Metzger brothers’ partnership in Los Angeles, into a big regulatory thicket. The Metzgers belatedly realized that the Environmental Protection Agency might decide that a 1947-era law that regulates pesticides would apply to antimicrobial products like theirs. The agency ruled last fall that the law covered Samsung’s Silvercare washing machine. Samsung was told it would have to register the machine as a pesticide, a potentially costly and time-consuming process, because the company claims the silver ions generated by the washer kill bacteria in the laundry.

(Read the full article here.)