I was recently invited to participate in the 2nd Nanosafety Dialogue for Success, organised by the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers of the European Commission in October 2008 in Brussels. This was one of many dialogues occurring in many countries. Sometimes it may appear, from a civil society point of view, that we could spend all our time travelling and dialoguing: but what do we have to show for this?
On the 12th of November 2008 the Royal Commission’s study of “Novel Materials in the Environment: the case of nanotechnology” was released. The report, while long and detailed, makes shocking reading.
An undergraduate team focused exclusively on the ethical, environmental, economic, social and legal (E3LS) aspects of synthetic biology has won a bronze medal at the international Genetic Engineering Machine/ synthetic biology competition (iGEM). The team, from the University of Calgary, were the first team to focus exclusively on the E3LS issues at iGEM. For more information visit their wiki site http://2008.igem.org/Team:Calgary_Ethics.
A British Royal Commission report to be released today has called for “urgent regulation” to manage the serious toxic risks posed by nanomaterials now in commercial use. The Commission drew particular attention to the toxic risks of carbon fullerenes or ‘bucky balls’, which Friends of the Earth has found in several cosmetics and face creams now on sale in Australia. Products include: N.V. Perricone M.D. Shaving Cream, Sircuit Addict, Sircuit White Out and Dr Brandt Laser Lightning Serum.
There is enormous public support for investment in sustainable, renewable energy alternatives to coal or nuclear power. There is also growing support for ‘green’ substitution of toxic chemicals. But all too often industry and governments are prepared to promote new (or old) technologies with a thick veneer of ‘greenwash’, presenting them as environmental saviours despite evidence of serious environmental risks or challenges. The green hype around nanotechnology fits this pattern.