Group calls for closer look at nanotech ethics, safety risks

The Nanoethics Group says development of the technology may be outpacing safety

The development of products that use nanotechnology is racing ahead of the understanding of their potential health and safety risks, according to Patrick lin, research director of The Nanoethics Group, which is assembling industry and academic representatives worldwide to examine ethical and social issues raised by the technology.

"More and more nanotechnology products are being introduced into the marketplace, and there's enough questions surrounding nanotechnology where we should really pause and really think" about steps that may be needed to protect health and safety, said Lin. He called for studies, such as an environmental impact study, "before we rush these products to the marketplace."

This Santa Barbara, Calif.-based group today announced that it has created an advisory board of about 30 researchers from a variety of disciplines, including molecular manufacturing, medicine, law, bioethics and chemical engineering, to study the issues raised by nanotechnology development.

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of material on an atomic scale, which allows scientists to develop incredibly small and strong materials and, in IT applications, components that theoretically could fit an enormous amount of computing power in extremely small devices.

But there are concerns. Nanotechnology is so new that it is not known what effect nanotech materials might have if they were to be inhaled or absorbed through a person's skin, Lin said. And in a report earlier this month, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington said new laws may be needed to manage the risks associated with nanotechnology, including a requirement that companies submit plans demonstrating that their products are safe.

The Nanoethics Group, a nonprofit organization funded by its participants, sees itself as an advisory and educational group. Among those on its board is Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University; C. Christopher Hook, assistant professor of medicine and a consultant in hematology and medical ethics at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine; Ray Kurzweil, CEO of Kurzweil Technologies Inc.; and Tihamer Toth-Fejel, a research engineer at General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems. The full list of board members is available online.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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