Many scientists view nanotechnology as the revolutionary technology of the 21st century. Just as plastics were a pervasive and revolutionary product of the 20th century, nanotechnology products are having widespread use and change our lives in a myriad of ways. This technology has quickly evolved into a global force that is transforming manufacturing, medicine and an ever increasing number of consumer/food goods. The field has become a worldwide market worth an estimated USD 1 trillion and is projected to grow at a rate of 16.5 percent through 2020 (1).
Nanotechnology is a generic term for applications that work with matter that is so small that it exists in the atomic and molecular realm. At this size, the substance’s physical, chemical and biological properties are different from what they were at the micrometer and larger scales. By harnessing these new properties, researchers have found that they can develop materials, devices and systems that are superior to those in use today and that enhance our lives in almost limitless ways. Nanotechnology currently is being used to strengthen the material used in golf clubs and bicycle frames, to create stain- and water-repellant clothing and to produce wear-resistant paints and coatings. The table below illustrates some of the industries and hundreds of consumer products in which nanotechnology is already in use - ranging from automotive, chemical, electronics, medicine and textiles.
As with practically all scientific breakthroughs, nanotechnology carries both risks and rewards. While it appears almost certain that the rewards will greatly outweigh the risks, attention must be paid to possible dangers to the well-being and the potential of human latent bodily injury from this new technology. The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies grouped products according to their potential exposure pathways into the human body from a theoretical perspective, and according to each product’s intended use. Based on the study, the number of consumer/industrial products that had the potential for resulting in bodily injury and occupational disease via transdermal, ingestion and inhalation exposure are 496, 129 and 212, respectively (2).
1. MarketWatch Inc.