Nanotechnology is one of the most talked about industries over the last couple of years. It’s predicted to be valued at $173.95 billion globally by 2025 and is an incredibly fast-moving sector that is already delivering sustainability, health and well-being benefits to our everyday society. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it, it might not be something that you realize you already know. So what is nanotechnology? As the name suggests, nanomaterials are very small. They have unique physical and chemical features, which gives them improved properties such as greater reactivity, strength, electrical characteristics and functionality. It’s these benefits that have resulted in nanomaterials being incorporated into a wide range of consumer products.
For example, the automotive, computing, electronic, cosmetics, sports and healthcare industries have all benefitted from nanotechnology. New fields have also emerged such as nanomedicine, which aims at dramatically improving our future ability to fight diseases. But the one area that nanotechnology is struggling is when it comes to human health and the environment. Standard hazard assessments are available for a wide range of things, like chemical compounds, but nanomaterials have unique properties that make it difficult to evaluate them in the same way.
You’re probably wondering where nanomaterials are being found? Well, they’re being found in waste water, for example from products like toothpaste and sunscreen. Or if you own a pair of nano-silver socks, and you wash them, the nanomaterials are then found in the waste water. That said, it’s extremely important that we understand the potential adverse impacts of nanomaterials before there is a massive environmental impact. Currently, the longterm effects of nanomaterial exposure on our ecosystem is widely misunderstood. In fact, we don’t know the impact of nanomaterial on the food chain. Which, if adverse, could affect our ability as a society to produce food. This could also lead to the questionable survival of some different species.
Like with anything, we don’t really know enough about how nanomaterials can affect humans when exposed. Either in small doses or in the long run. The biggest way that a person can be exposed is through their lungs, stomach and skin. Nanomaterials are incorporated into food products, and packaging, which means they can be inhaled or swallowed by workers during the manufacturing process. What we do know is that once nanomaterials have entered the body, they become trapped in the liver. But what we don’t know is what risk this poses to the individual in the long term.
What is being done about this? Researchers are adopting cutting-edge science technology in order to develop advance tissue models of the lungs, stomach, and liver in order to assess nanomaterial safety.
In 2019, it’s vitally important that researchers and scientists get a handle on everything that could be harmful to our bodies. 50 years ago, we didn’t understand the impact that certain plastics could have on our physical bodies and the environment. But that didn’t stop plastics from becoming the next big thing. With that in mind, it makes you wonder what will be the next big thing and how safe it will be for our bodies and the planet. Perhaps nanotechnology is able to enhance our lives, rather than being something that eventually destroys it. Let’s leave that with the researchers to come up with an answer and some solutions.