ENE451 Seminar: Risk Management and Safety Norwegian School of Economics Mao, Success (s116568) The Precautionary Principle and the Impact of Nanotechnology on Human Welfare and the Environment In the 21st century, technological innovation will almost certainly accelerate from its already rapid pace. Neither government around the world nor inter-governmental institution is prepared to deal with the adverse effects and unanticipated consequences of the emerging cutting-edge technologies. If we do not prepare ourselves well in advanced, we run a high risk of doing irreversible damage to humankind and to our planet, and of ending up not with a world made better by technology but with lives and the environment threatened by the world we have created. Nanotechnology provides both the necessity and the opportunity to start addressing these questions. In this paper we are going to discuss the concept of precautionary principle and how we can apply it to discuss the impact of new emerging science such as nanotechnology and its derivative, nanoparticles, on human welfare and the environment. First, what is precautionary principle? Definition and Hypothesis According to WHO’s conference entitled “Europe at the Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, Budapest, 2002;” the precautionary principle provides a framework, procedures and policy tools for public policy actions in situations of scientific complexity, uncertainty and ignorance, where there may be a need to act before there is strong proof of harm in order to avoid, or reduce, potentially serious or irreversible threats to health or the environment, using an appropriate level of scientific evidence, and taking into account the likely benefits and drawbacks of action and inaction. Scientifically, to have a definitive conclusion that something is harmful to human welfare and the environment such as in the case of nanotechnology, we may follow the common approach of stating the null-hypothesis of “no harm” and see if data beyond reasonable doubt leads us to reject this hypothesis in favor of the alternative hypothesis “harmful.” We may have two types of errors: rejecting the null-hypothesis that is nanotechnology does not affect human welfare and the environment when it is true (type I error) or keeping the null-hypothesis that it is harmful to human welfare and the environment when it is false (type II error). In the case of human welfare there are usually high stakes in favor of the null-hypothesis, for several reasons: (i) humans appreciate the product or habit consistent with the null-hypothesis and it may have ingredients that are impossible, hard or expensive to replace, (ii) rejection of the null-hypothesis means drastic measures with high costs and/or major human adjustments. What is Nanotechnology? The advancement in technological research and development in nanotechnology presents both the risks and opportunities to bring better products to humanity as a whole. It will also help us solve the current issue facing our deteriorating environmental problem such as water and air pollution caused by industrialization over the previous centuries...etc. However, the risks presented are obvious as there will be numerous unanswered questions as to how this new technology is going to be applied in the real world and, therefore, its impacts on global health and the environment is unavoidable. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a nanometer is one billionth of a meter, about one hundred thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, a thousand
times smaller than a red blood cell, or about half the size of the diameter of DNA. Thus, nanotechnology is defined as: research and technology development at the atomic, molecular, or macromolecular levels using a length scale of approximately one to one hundred nanometers in any dimension. In another definition, nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter for use in particular applications through certain chemical or physical processes to create materials with specific properties. Nowadays, scientists apply nanotechnology in the field such as surface science, chemistry, biology, semiconductor, and micro-fabrication...etc. Furthermore, the long-term future of nanotechnology can be applied in the field of medicine, electronics, biomaterials and energy production. Nanotechnology and Human Health With the advent of new materials such as nanoparticles, which is a derivative product from the scientific application of nanotechnology, stakeholders concerned by the lack of a regulatory framework to control risks associated with the release of such particles have often drawn comparison with the newly discovered disease on animal, genetically modified food, nuclear energy, biotechnology, and asbestosis...etc. According to Dr. Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor to the Woodrow Wilson Centerâ€™s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, he concludes that due to insufficient funding for research into human health and safety on the application of nanotechnology into new products, this could result in the limited understanding of the downside risks of this new technology on human health and safety. The health impact of nanotechnology includes the possible effects that the use of nanoparticles and devices will have on human health. However, there is often great discussion as to how nanotechnology will offer benefits or pose risks to human health as it is a new emerging technology in recent decades with little scientific studies mentioned about its impact. Two aspects would be discussed below; first, the potential for its innovation to have on medical application and development of new drugs to cure disease and second, the health hazards caused by exposure to nanoparticles. First is nanomedicine. It is the equivalent of the application of nanotechnology into the field of medical science. According to Robert A. Freitas Jr. (1999), current problems for nanomedicine involve understanding the issues related to toxicity. Second, our human body can easily absorb particles as small as nanoparticles which are extremely tiny in size comparing to conventional particles. How these nanoparticles interact inside the human body is one of the issues that need to be answered. In summary, the large number of variables influencing toxicity from nanoparticles means that it is difficult to generalize about health risks associated with its exposure. Thus, each new nanoparticle must be studied individually and all material properties must be analyzed before its application to any medicine. Nanotechnology and the Environment There's clearly plenty to talk about when it comes to debating the positive and negative aspects of nanotechnology not only in the form of life-saving applications in medicine, but also, in tackling the worldâ€™s current air, water, soil, ocean, and other environmental problems. Another potential positive effect of this technology, however, is to facilitate the efficiency and environmental friendliness of extracting and recycling of raw materials. A study in 2007 by the Woodrow Wilson Centerâ€™s leading scientists details how nanoparticles can be created that are not only safe, but also cost less and perform better than conventional materials. This would have enormous effect on the cost of extraction of conventional raw materials for industrial production.
Conclusion We could now provide the answer to the argument for the pro and con of the absolute application of the precautionary measure in the field of nanotechnology. However, we believe that it is no easy answer to distinguish the potential benefits and the potential harms arising from the application of new emerging technology. As in any relatively new area of research and application, nanotechnology has limitless application to bring prosperity and welfare for humanity in future decades, but at the same time its side-effects can only be studied overtime as the application become more widespread and popular. Another problem we see in the field of nanotechnology is the aspect of absolute evidence. Is it actually possible to provide clear-cut evidence the absolute security of nanoparticles? However, the negatives would need to be highly weighted in order to sway public opinion that nanotechnology is anything useful to humanity. On the obvious level, there are concerns such as the possible application of nanoparticles into the development of advanced military equipment (i.e. through nanosensors used in surveillance capabilities) and chemical weapons…etc. According to the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education of Australia, development of nanoparticles’ application into the food chain also has potential negative effect on developing countries as it might causes the replacement of natural products (including rubber, cotton, coffee and tea) by developments of a cheaper supplements. In general, developing countries mostly rely on the export of these crops for their economic survival and many farmers' livelihoods depend on them. However, according to Naveen Dubey et al. (2012), the positive side of nanotechnology may be particularly important if potential negative effects of nanoparticles are overlooked before they are released. To support clear evidence for the safety of nanotechnology and nanoparticles might take several decades since the potential harm can only be verified by long-term studies. Extrapolation from laboratory work is not sufficient. Furthermore, the involved parties should try to debate based on facts and not on emotions as it is often the case when it comes to new technologies. However, given these studies have been carried out individually and on a long term basis we should stop our precautionary measures and allow for taking the remaining risks. References Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (2012). Enabling technology futures: a survey of the Australian technology landscape. DIISTRE, Canberra. Drexler, K. Eric (1992): Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation. New York. John Wiley & Sons. Dubey Naveen et al. (2012). “The Potential Human Health and Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology”. International Journal of Scientific Research Engineering and Technology (IJSRET) 1 (5): 274-278. http://www.ijsret.org/pdf/naveen_dubey.pdf Holsapple Michael P. et al. (2005): "Research Strategies for Safety Evaluation of Nanomaterials, Part II: Toxicological and Safety Evaluation of Nanomaterials, Current Challenges and Data Needs". Toxicological Sciences, 88. Horlick, Rowe G. et al. (2005). "Difficulties in evaluating public engagement initiatives: reflections on an evaluation of the UK GM Nation". Public Understanding of Science 14 (4): 331–352.
Robert A. Freitas Jr. (1999). â€œNanomedicine, Volume I: Basic Capabilitiesâ€?. Landes Bioscience, 1999. Schmidt, Karen F. "Green Nanotechnology: It's Easier than You Think." Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. April 2008. http://www.nanotechproject.org/process/assets/files/2701/187_greennano_pen8.pdf United States Environmental Protection Agency (2007): Nanotechnology White Paper. (EPA, 2007). United States Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/osa/pdfs/nanotech/epananotechnology-whitepaper-0207.pdf WHO Secretariat (2004): Working Document (EUR/04/5046267/11, 28 April 2004). Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, Budapest, June 2004.