Nanotechnology and Workers' Compensation

They say nanotechnology is "poised to be the globe's next big economic driver", the "industrial revolution of the 21st century", "the plastics of the 21st century". But what are the health risks (i.e., cancer) for millions of workers exposed to nanotech processes and materials? When it comes to industrial hazards in the workplace, is nanotechnology the new asbestos?

Nanotechnology, which has been in development for 20 years, has seen rapid growth in recent years. There are now over 500 everyday products on the market that use nanotech processes and/or materials. The National Science Foundation forecasts that, by 2015, over $1 trillion in nanotechnology-enabled products will be on the market.

Insurance companies have been scrambling to assess the risks and how to cover those risks for their clients. It's believed that the majority of the large industries have created best practices for the careful handling of nanotech materials, whereas small R&D companies have been known not to implement any type of risk management.

Nanotechnology in a nutshell. Nanotechnology is the "field of applied science and technology whose unifying theme is the control of matter on the atomic and molecular scale, normally 1 to100 nanometers, and the fabrication of devices within that size range." Source: Wikipedia. Potential products include new medicines that are non-invasive, non-toxic, and less expensive, lighter and stronger materials for airplanes and cars, improvements in solar energy generation, and more.

The Nano landscape. The top 4 nanotechnology states are California, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas. The top 5 "Nano Metro" areas are San Jose, CA, Boston, MA, San Francisco, CA, Oakland, CA, and Middlesex  Essex, MA.  Source: Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

Important links:

The National Nanotechnology Initiative
http://www.nano.gov/

The Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies
http://nanotechproject.org/
http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=topics.home&topic_id=166192

The Center for Nanoscale Science & Technology at Rice University
http://cnst.rice.edu/

The United States Environmental Protection Agency
http://www.epa.gov

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech/

 

Comments

Robin E. Kobayashi
  • 06-11-2008

As reported in the L.A Times on May 28, 2008, "nanotubes -- microscopic graphite cylinders used in a small but growing number of Space Age applications -- could pose a cancer risk similar to that of asbestos if inhaled....Precautions were now in place in many factories, usually requiring workers to wear respirators....In finished products, the nanotubes are embedded in other material and thus pose less risk to consumers." These other materials include bicycle parts, car bumpers, and computer displays.

Robin E. Kobayashi
  • 06-11-2008

The Huffington Post reported on May 25, 2008 that "Nanotechnology could be the new hope of cancer patients since it's been shown to make radiation therapy of cancer more effective....A research team led by Sunil Krishnan, M.D., of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, has found that pretreating tumors with gold nanoparticles and near-infrared radiation dramatically improves the response of tumors to radiation therapy."