Zurich and nano 02
small things 08
How big are
the risks? 10
potential of nano 04
At the leading edge
Zurich’s thought leadership
No small thing
The enormous potential of nano
The kings of small things
The regulatory environment for
Large risks from small things?
Myth and reality of nano-risks
Eric Johnson, Biljana Kostic,
Ashutosh Riswadkar, Katja Trodella
Copyright held by Zurich Financial
Services Ltd on all text, photographs
and illustrations unless otherwise
dEsIgn And pRodUCTIon
Addison Corporate Marketing
This issue of Industry Insight is focused on nanotechnology – the
manipulation of atoms and molecules for the creation of new structures
at the scale of billionths of a meter.
As you will see throughout this issue, innovation in nanotechnology is
largely driven by the pursuit of nanoparticles which have entirely different
properties from their macro-scale counterparts – say, silver versus
nanosilver. Occasionally this transformation also implies a transformation
in the risk landscape. Zurich’s activities in nanotechnology are dedicated
to helping our customers understand how this transformation could
affect them, and how they can meet the challenges that may arise.
In the opening article we describe the origins of Zurich’s dealings with
nanotechnology, and the steps we’re taking today to remain a thought
leader in this important field. In the feature article we describe the vast
potential still to be realized in nanotechnology, across a broad range
of endeavors and industries such as health care, computing, building gUEsT EdIToR
materials and more. The next article gives an overview of the changing Director, Emerging Issues
state of regulation, and the last teases out the real versus imagined risks firstname.lastname@example.org
posed by the technology’s further development.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to contact me with any questions or
comments on email@example.com.
Director, Emerging Issues
Zurich in North America
Zurich is dedicated to helping
“ customers meet the risk challenges
associated with nanotechnology.
INDuSTRY INSIGHT 01
Zurich in front on nanotechnology
ack in 2006, members of counterparts. So when Steve Knutson Meanwhile nanotechnology left the lab
Zurich’s global Emerging Risks (Director of Emerging Issues, Zurich some time ago. You’ll find nanoparticles
Group (ERG) met once again to Group ERG member, and Guest Editor in cosmetics, sporting goods, and in
ask themselves the same of this issue) brought up nanotechnology, many other sections of your local
question they’d been asking for years: an issue he’d been studying since 2003. department store (see page 4). Yet for
of all risks on the horizon, which had The question was not simply whether nano-visionaries, the promise of
the greatest potential to affect Zurich’s nanotechnology was a breakthrough nanotechnology remains largely ahead
business, and the businesses of its development – this much was never in of us: think of bacteria that can gobble
customers? Which risks could truly be doubt – but did it pass all three tests of up oil spills, or building materials that are
called ‘emerging’? emerging risk? lighter, stronger, and more resilient, and
you start to get a sense of how broad
The question isn’t always easy to answer. Check, check, and check. the horizons might be.
To the ERG, an emerging risk must meet
three standards. First, it must be a Nanotechnology was precisely the sort So in 2006, what did all this mean to the
phenomenon whose nature and effects of development for which the ERG had ERG? And what did it mean for a global
are unknown – so for example, an been started in the first place. “From the insurer – one with thousands of
imminent outbreak of cholera couldn’t very start,” says Knutson, “there wasn’t customers working across a range of
really be considered an ‘emerging’ risk, much disagreement. It was clear that industries, many of whom were already
no matter how threatening it appeared. nanotechnology had incredible potential major investors and innovators in
Second, an emerging risk must go to change a whole range of industries. It nanotechnology?
beyond the bounds of existing was also clear that its risk profile might
underwriting and risk management best be totally unique.” First and foremost, it meant that this
practices – so that even a rise in the emerging risk presented a clear
incidence of cyber thefts and security Materials in the nano state do not opportunity for Zurich. Zurich needed
breaches would fall short, since the always have the same properties they to work with its customers in
exposures by themselves are known have in the macro state. Indeed, this is at understanding their nano-scale risks,
!risks with existing underwriting and the heart of what makes nanoparticles and also on behalf of those same
risk management practices designed so promising (and why, for example, customers, by staying on top of both
to address them. Finally, an emerging it suddenly makes sense to put silver in scientific the regulatory developments
risk must go beyond existing actuarial your sweatsocks). By the same token, surrounding nanotechnology.
calculations – so that even if everyone the risk profile could be totally new.
switched over to electric cars, it would Indeed, our understanding of the Zurich seized the opportunity on three
only matter to the ERG to the degree toxicology of nanoparticles is being fronts. First, Zurich made sure that
that those cars had a different actuarial refined every day. insurers had a voice in the development
profile than their combustion-driven of industry’s health, safety and
02 INDuSTRY INSIGHT
Zurich is the go-to choice for any
“ corporation looking to exploit the
enormous potential of nanotechnology.
environmental standards and nomen- understand the nano-risk exposures of in a way that made a good fit for us.”
clature. They found it on the American its customers, and it would also provide Intertox Chief Executive Officer
National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) a way to form a high-level view of the Richard Pleus echoes the sentiment:
accredited u.S. Technical Advisory risks that could be associated with “The collaboration is complementary.
Group (TAG) to ISO/TC 229 on Nano- nanotechnology generally. By working As toxicologists, we have expertise on
technologies, where today Ashutosh closely with corporate customers, nanotechnology’s potential impact
‘Rish’ Riswadkar, Liability Line of collecting data on the specific nano - on human health. Zurich provides the
Business Director at Zurich North particles they were using, learning about insurance viewpoint. Working together
America, serves as the lone member the specific applications where they’re on ZNEP™ has clearly positioned Zurich
from the insurance industry. ANSI, which employed, and then categorizing and as a leader in nanotechnology within
regularly brings together government, combining this information, Zurich the insurance industry.”
academic, and industry representatives, could form a global overview of nano-
develops recommendations for nanotech technology and its various facets of risk. The timing is right, as innovations in
standards which it passes along to the Such an activity would not only be a nanotechnology are occurring almost
International Standards Organization good way to protect its business, but it daily. While pure nanoparticle plays are
(ISO) – an important step in creating a could form a basis for providing risk rare – say, boutique operations
standards infrastructure for management advice to its customers developing their own nanoparticles,
nanotechnology development. going forward. then selling them to the highest bidder
– big corporations are devoting sizeable
Second, Zurich sought to have its voice Today that vision has come to life with resources to developing applications that
heard in the ongoing regulatory debate the Zurich Nanotechnology Exposure can invigorate existing product lines in a
(see page 8). “We want a regulatory Protocol™, or ZNEP™. gold rush of nano-innovation.
regime that’s practical and effective,”
says Knutson, “A clear and consistent The road to ZNEP™ has not followed a Zurich works closely with many of those
set of parameters could go a long way straight line. In the early stages, Zurich corporations today, trying to understand
in supporting a safe and innovative looked to partner with academic the nanoparticles they’re developing,
nanotechnology industry.” Today Zurich institutions to develop the ZNEP™ and using the ZNEP™ tool to structure
keeps close watch on regulatory application. Knutson and others met that knowledge-building process.
proposals around the world, and seeks with leading university departments and Through this approach, the lag between
to inform the debate wherever a risk researchers around the world, yet discovery and insurability can be
management perspective seems needed. something never quite clicked. Finally shortened dramatically – making Zurich
they came around to Intertox, a the go-to choice for any corporation
Finally, Zurich struck out to develop a health-based research and consulting looking to exploit the enormous
risk assessment protocol of its own. Such firm in Seattle (uSA). “In the end,” says potential of nanotechnology.
a protocol would help Zurich better Knutson, “Intertox was business-minded
INDuSTRY INSIGHT 03
no smAll ThIng
friction, and they may acquire
superpowers such as invisibility or
extraordinary strength. Remember zinc
oxide, the white goo that lifeguards rub
The enormous market potential of nanotechnology on their noses to protect against
sunburn? When produced as very fine
nanoparticles, it becomes transparent,
o doubt about it, No doubt about it, nanomaterials will and hence much more attractive to most
nanomaterials are exciting. In become ever larger in the marketplace. sunbathers. When in your ordinary
the super-small world of tiny For the most part, they are the latest pencil, carbon (in the form of graphite)
particles, common substances advance in an age-old progression of is soft and malleable. Yet at nanoscale,
can take on extraordinary characteristics. new materials. Just as bronze, iron, steel, carbon can become far harder and
Solids can pass through solids, visible concrete and plastics did in their day, stronger than steel.
things turn invisible, soft substances nanomaterials are already advancing
become super-hard, electrical insulators from miraculous developments into And then there is silver. The same
transform into conductors and metal regular features of everyday life. What at glistening metal used for centuries in
can be burned as fuel. first raises eyebrows eventually shrugs jewelry, coins and tableware, when
shoulders, and in getting there, will also reduced to grains less than 100
No doubt about it, nanomaterials are fatten some wallets. nanometers across, turns into a
mundane. Their largest-volume products disinfectant!
have been around for years and now lET’s gET smAll
are mature (see sidebar: Old versus new Begin with one of the strangest truths smAll sTUFF FIghTIng ThE swEAT
nanotech). Even new products mostly go about material properties: size matters. Like much of nanotechnology, such
into conventional applications such as If broken down to the nano-scale, extraordinary properties are being put to
cars, clothes, computers and cosmetics. substances can behave very differently use in ordinary applications. Nanosilver,
Recent breakthroughs involve tennis than they do in their normal state. as it is called, has been built not only
rackets, washing machines and – get into odor-resistant socks, but over 200
ready for it – socks that repel odors from Out on their own, nanoparticles can other products. These range from
smelly feet. start acting like comic book heroes. They toothpastes, pet shampoos, fabric
break free from the forces of gravity and softeners, bath towels, medicines,
04 INDuSTRY INSIGHT
cosmetics, deodorizers, and baby Pearl effect pigments – the wonderful to conductivity (e.g. conductive inks
clothes, to nanosilver-lined baby bottles, world of color has expanded with the that allow circuits to be printed onto a
refrigerators, food containers and introduction of these extra glossy, super surface). Researchers are even exploring
kitchen cutting boards. On top of that shiny pigments. Natural mica, ground the use of nanogold to combat cancer.
are silver-enhanced electric shavers, to nanoscale and coated with metal
curling irons, ankle braces, wrist bands, oxides adds luster to paints, as well as Nanotubes – made from carbon (the
women’s brassieres and handrails for cosmetics such as lipstick, nail polish same stuff of pencils and diamonds),
buses. and blush. For longer-lived applications, nanotubes look like drinking straws –
nanomica also protects against weather only shrunk to a ten-millionth of normal
The extraordinary-into-ordinary and wear. scale. They are unusually strong and
pattern also fits the other major, conductive, and can lend these
new applications of nanomaterials: Metals – while tiny particles of elemental properties to a host plastic when mixed
metals have long been used in catalysis in even at tiny doses. This is potentially
Silica sols and metal oxides – gel-like (chemicals, refining and automotive useful for lots of products, though
suspensions of silicon dioxide (so-called exhausts), new production methods perhaps easiest to visualize when
colloids) have been used for years in allow nanoparticles to be created at thinking about products such as sporting
paper-making, silicon-chip polishing and specified sizes and special distributions. goods – tennis racquets, for
a variety of other industrial processes. This can be tricky, because with a few instance – that need to be
Thanks to manufacturing advances, exceptions, metal nanopowders ignite lightweight yet strong.
producers have more recently been able when exposed to air. Applications range
to make them as either gels or powders, from catalysis to disinfection (nanosilver)
out of other metals (not just silicon, but
also aluminum, titanium and others) and
to control more closely the size and
Just as bronze and iron did in their
distribution of nanoparticles. These sols
are used mainly in protective coatings
for electronic and construction
components. Perhaps the best-known
applications are in sunscreens and in
“ day, nanomaterials are advancing from
miraculous developments to
regular features of everyday life.
coatings for artificial joints.
“ INDuSTRY INSIGHT 05
A related product, the so-called unfolded throughout the sci-fi canon, million) by 2015 1. Some market analysts
‘Buckyball,’ is a molecule of 60 carbon including from such authors as Stanislaw have doubled or even tripled that figure,
atoms that looks like a miniature soccer Lem (The Invincible) and Frank Herbert while others come several orders of
ball – one that has a tantalizingly long (The Green Brain). magnitude lower. They disagree partly
list of unique properties. Yet despite this because market data are imprecise, but
promise, despite the fact that Buckyballs Here again, however, commercial fact mainly because some analysts count
sparked public fancy for nanotech, and is more mundane. Nanodevices’ main the value of the entire nano-enhanced
despite the fact that they even helped applications are in computers. While product (say, the lipstick) while other
earn their inventors a Nobel Prize in these may be science-fiction staples count only the nanomaterial therein
chemistry. . . they have yet to find (and, in a sense, computers have taken (say, the nanomica).
significant commercial applications. over the world), cramming more circuits
on a chip or more memory on a drive is Still, this could be an instance where size
So what about nanodevices? After all, hardly the stuff of literature. And surely doesn’t matter so much, at least not if
putting tiny machines to work has been that is how producers like it – a nice you’re trying to figure out whether
a long-standing fantasy of science fiction earner, sans drama. nanotechnology represents a significant
– for better and for worse. In the 1966 growth opportunity. On this point,
film ‘The Fantastic Voyage,’ for example, bIg monEy analysts are pretty much all in
miniaturized tools (and people!) save So how big is the market for nano- agreement that, regardless of the
a dying man. In ‘Prey,’ a 2003 book by materials? The estimates can vary baseline, growth is and will be robust,
Michael Creighton, some much more dramatically. In 2001 the u.S. National typically on the order of 10-25 percent
sinister nanobots (tiny robots) try to Science Foundation predicted global per annum – and that’s no small change.
take over the world. Similar plots have revenues of uSD 1 trillion (a million
AboVE 1 The mundane applications of truly wondrous things: 2 Old-fashioned nanotech: carbon black has a long 3 Making materials lightweight, yet strong: sporting
nanotechnology is hard at work making what was history of keeping tires familiarly black. goods are a natural market for nano.
once visible invisible (as in sunscreens).
06 INDuSTRY INSIGHT
Corporations have gotten the message,
and are voting with their wallets, whERE ThE RUbbER mEETs ThE RoAd:
investing heavily in new capacity and old VERsUs nEw nAnoTECh
looking across their business to see
where nanotechnology can make a While popular excitement about them dates agglomerated into particles often larger
significant difference to their bottom back maybe a decade, nanomaterials than 100 nm; and performance is less
line. Indeed, just thinking of the impact themselves have been around far, far linked to individual particle size than to
longer. Nature creates them (e.g. ocean surface area.
that nanotechnology could have at the spray, soot or volcanic ash), and so does
level of a company’s infrastructure – conventional manufacturing. According to By contrast the next generation of
faster computing, say, or more powerful market analyst SRI Consulting 2, the two nanomaterials is likely to be discovered
batteries – suggests that this could be biggest commercial products are: silica gels through a focused pursuit of highly-
(the little sachets of desiccant often found engineered, purpose-specific particles,
a real game-changer for a lot of in pillbottles, shoeboxes, or accompanying which their owners hope to patent for
companies. For this reason, production some other product that must be kept dry); exclusive use, and thereby edge out
of – and most likely, profit from – and carbon black, a refinery byproduct used the competition.
nanomaterials is poised to grow rapidly in tires to make them look, well, black.
for the foreseeable future. Compare this with good old carbon
Although revenues for these ‘old’ black – the ubiquitous and widespread
nanomaterials roughly equal those from descendent of lampblack, which has been
‘new’ nanomaterials, the former’s growth is in production for more than three thousand
far lower and their nanostructures are less years – and you’ll agree that nanotechnology
critical to performance. As SRI Consulting ain’t what it used to be.
1 http://itri.loyola.edu/nano/societalimpact/nanosi.pdf explains, ‘old’ nanomaterials are
• Getty Images
1 3 4
2 • Computer wafer, close-up (full frame)
4 Nanotechnology can make a big contribution to
making your computer smaller and faster while
boosting memory at the same time.
INDuSTRY INSIGHT 07
Cosmetic Products and Non-Food
Products (SCCPNFP) classify titanium
dioxide – a filler used in products as
diverse as paint and toothpaste – as safe,
without regard to its particle size.
Titanium dioxide as a nanopowder (used
in sunscreens) is regulated no differently
Regulating nanomaterials than it is as a macromaterial. This means
that costly and time-consuming testing
and approval of the nanosubstance is
avoided, because it rides through
IFRA REACH TSCA, FDA CPSC are recognized, the regulatory permitting on the shoulders of its
EPA, DG ENV OSHA… Is this all environment will continue to be larger-sized cousin (which, in chemical
part of a code, a strange reformed. For many governments, the terms, is admittedly the same material).
language or some strange genetic aim is to apply existing regulatory
sequence? None of the above, actually: frameworks, as much as possible, to the Increasingly, environmental scientists are
these are initials for regulations and emerging realm of nanomaterials. questioning this piggyback approach.
regulators. All of them and more are They note that nano and macro particles
being mobilized to protect the public sEpARATE bUT EqUAl of a given substance may have very
from the dangers potentially represented It could be argued that most different properties. As a group of nano
by nanotechnology. nanomaterials already are regulated, scientists pointed out in a 2008 issue
except that they aren’t. Nearly all current of Nature 1: “…nanomaterials, some
Clearly, innovators in nanotechnology rules for how substances must be of which have novel properties, are
will confront a patchwork quilt of produced, used or disposed of apply capable of being incorporated in highly
rules and rulers. Almost certainly this simply to materials, with no distinction diverse products, may be transported
patchwork will create gaps and overlaps, between a material in its normal, macro to places in new ways, and may be
turf battles and orphaned dossiers, form (the usual object of regulation), designed to be persistent. Too little is
disagreements and occasional confusion. and the same material in nano form. known to predict the environmental
Yet as numerous observers will point fate of nanomaterials, and feasible
out, most existing materials are For instance, the u.S. Food and Drug documentation of environmental
controlled in a similar hodgepodge Administration (FDA) and the European dispersion through monitoring is not
fashion, and as the gaps and overlaps union’s (Eu) Scientific Committee on expected in the short term.”
08 INDuSTRY INSIGHT
Governments’ responses to this message
have been mixed. On one hand they
have no desire to tarnish their ongoing
subsidy and promotion of nanotech,
which has been hailed as an economic
booster and job creator. On the other
hand, they recognize that a nasty
‘incident’ could spoil the nano-
technology party. Fear among the
general public – whether or not it is
shared by business people or scientists
– could torpedo the nano industry
before it fully leaves port.
As they so often do, governments have
responded with a compromise. Two
additional acronymed groups – the u.S.’s
National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)
and the Eu’s Research Directorate (DG
RES)– have been tasked with planning
and coordination of nanomaterials
regulation. This comes alongside their Above Macro and nano versions may need to be regulated seperately
existing job of promoting nanotech
research, development and
commercialization (and yes, some
scientists have noticed this apparent development of common standards or Publifocus in which scientists, officials
conflict of interest). (see page 2). and the general public air their nano
hopes and fears. Germany’s federal
The challenge boils down to recognizing until those are agreed, the second government has even sponsored a
the importance of understanding priority, controlling nanomaterials, will ‘Nanotruck,’ an 18-wheeled science
nanoscale risk, while still encouraging be a special challenge. So far, regulators museum cum propaganda ministry that
the emergence of ground-breaking are approaching nanomaterials in a way has been touring the country this year to
nanotechnology applications. In this, that’s similar to how they approach praise the wonders of these small things.
Zurich is leading its industry by example, conventional materials: by their life-cycle
developing a body of knowledge of stage and by their sector of application. If all this sounds somewhat disjointed,
nanoparticle toxicity that can inform the For the case of, say, titanium dioxide in that’s because it is. Still, the overall
risk management solutions it offers to sunscreen, regulators might control its understanding is steadily coalescing
innovating customers (see page 2). production through workplace safety among governments that they must
and industrial pollution laws, its use keep nanomaterials growing and
R Is FoR REgUlATIon through consumer product rules, and its profitable, but also safe.
Regulators take their mandate as a disposal through water quality statutes.
combination of three assignments: risk It might also be regulated (perhaps
1 Hanson et al. Late lessons from early warnings for
research, making and enforcing rules, concurrently) through sector-specific nanotechnology. Nature Nanotechnology 3(8), 444–447
and stakeholder consultation. legislation for cosmetics or chemicals. (2008).
Job one is to find out better how Adding to this complexity is the myriad
nanomaterials come in contact with of agencies that enforce the rules,
people and the environment, and what often independently. In the u.S., for soVEREIgns oF nAno
happens when they do. Current funding instance, the federally run Environmental
for this, says a mid-2008 report by the Protection Agency (EPA) has begun European Union
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, to issue rules about handling of and • REACH – Regulation for Registration,
Evaluation and Authorisation and
amounts to less than 5 percent of exposure to nanoforms of alumina, Restriction of Chemical Substances
nanoscience research subsidies. Future, silica and silver, while a state agency, • DG ENV – Directorate General for
increased money and attention are to the California Department of Toxic the Environment
be focused on two areas: 1) toxicology Substances, is considering controls • SCCPNFP – Scientific Committee on
Cosmetic Products and Non-Food
of nanomaterials, and 2) standards for on carbon nanotubes. Likewise, the
Products intended for Consumers
measuring said toxicology and other competencies of the Eu and its member
properties. Nanotechnology is still new states are still being delineated, thus United states
enough that researchers have yet to likely to be patchy and at times • FIFRA – Federal Insecticide, Fungicide
define uniform protocols and standards overlapping. and Rodenticide Act
• TSCA – Toxic Substances and Control Act
for how it should be characterized. Even • CPSC – Consumer Product Safety Council
the definition of nanotechnology itself The final piece of regulation’s puzzle • EPA – Environmental Protection Agency
is non-standardized. Recognizing the is a post-modern add-on: ‘stakeholder • FDA – Food and Drug Administration
critical importance of filling these gaps, consultation.’ u.S. and Eu ‘nanotech • OSHA – Occupational Safety and
Zurich is working closely with groups action plans’ call for various talking
that have been charged with the shops with names such as PubliForum
INDuSTRY INSIGHT 09
Real and imagined risks of nanotech
hen an aerosol-propelled Surely one of the victims thought so, practices that can help customers
sealant called ‘Magic telling the Los Angeles Times 1 that she confront this uncertainty with greater
Nano’ debuted in “put the blame on nanotechnology.” confidence (see page 2).
Germany in 2006, And her charge might have attracted
consumers were ‘enchanted’ in a way more serious attention, but for one AnoThER AsbEsTos?
the manufacturer had never intended. inconvenient truth: the product The hazards of nanotechnology should
More than one hundred users reported contained no nanoparticles whatsoever! not be trivialized. Common sense
that using the product had a range of suggests that materials with
unpleasant side effects – from nausea, Subsequent investigation by Germany’s extraordinary properties might also
to dizziness, to coughing and other Federal Institute of Risk Assessment 2 have extraordinary potential as poisons
respiratory difficulties. The product was showed ‘Magic Nano’ to be a complete or pollutants.
soon brought to the attention of local misnomer; instead, the probable culprit
health authorities. was an anti-corrosion additive in the As Andrew Maynard of The Project on
product’s formula. Emerging Nanotechnologies, a non-
Customers were warned off the product, profit, independent research consortium
‘Magic Nano’ was pulled from shelves, This ‘nano case that wasn’t’ highlights funded by two u.S. charities, explained
and the afflicted, including the 30 or so the peculiar risk position of to Technology Review 3: “We know
who had to be hospitalized after using nanomaterials. Public concerns can be from animal studies that very, very fine
the product, soon recovered. Yet to an overwrought, and long-term health and particles, particles with high surface
alarmed public, the case of ‘Magic Nano’ environmental data will take time to area, lead to a greater inflammatory
raised a larger question: should products accumulate. Recognizing the need and response than the same amount of
containing nanomaterials be regulated opportunity to close this gap with larger particles. We also know that they
more closely to prevent similar accidents empirically-based risk insights, Zurich is can enter the lining of the lungs and get
from happening? stepping forward by building a body of through to the blood and enter other
knowledge and risk management organs. There is some evidence that
10 INDuSTRY INSIGHT
How risky are nanomaterials? Nobody
“ really knows. For most substances,
not enough toxicity data are available
to make conclusive bans or permits.
nanoparticles can move into the brain as pesticides and to ban any that had and greedy, while the latter brands
along the olfactory nerve, so this is not been registered. the former as Luddite obstructionists.
completely circumventing the blood- unfortunately the public is generally
brain barrier.” While not completely dismissing this uninformed about nanotechnology,
concern, some producers of products or at least confused about it.
Tiny particles can pose a threat to nature that employ nanosilver contend that this
as well. Maynard’s colleague, Samuel is an expensive overreaction. George upon hearing the term nanotechnology,
Luoma, points out 4 that nanosilver – a Maass, a chemist with Colloidal Science many would first think of nanobots,
nanoparticle increasingly used to kill Laboratories, argues that nanosilver, which could be understandably terrifying
germs, and which in its macro-state is when emitted to soil or water in the – assuming, of course, they actually
seen as a potential environmental hazard environment, quickly agglomerates into existed (see sidebar).
– could also kill aquatic life when larger particles that are harmless 5. He
released to wastewater. and representatives of other nanosilver down, boy, down
makers contend that the skeptics are How risky are nanomaterials? Maynard,
FEAR And loAThIng overly fearful, making mountains of Luoma and others say the real crux of
This sort of talk inflames nanoskeptic molehills. Says a spokesman of the the problem is that nobody can really
activists such as the International Center industry group NanoBusiness Alliance: say for sure.
for Technology Assessment, or the “To date, there have been no reported
Action Group on Erosion, Technology problems associated with any products “Would we know if nanomaterials were
and Concentration (ETC). Citing their using nanotechnology 6.” causing harm?” asks John Lawton,
potential toxicity, the former group in chairman of the uK’s Royal Commission
the spring of 2008 petitioned the u.S. This makes for a deep-seated conflict. on Environmental Pollution 7. “The
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) At the extremes, where the debate has answer is, no we wouldn’t.
to force all products containing tended to be the loudest, the anti-nano We have no evidence that they
nanosilver to be tested and registered crowd labels the pro-nanos as reckless cause harm, but a lot of that is
INDuSTRY INSIGHT 11
because of a lack of evidence.” For most
substances, many conclude that not
enough toxicity data are available to
make conclusive bans or permits.
So scientists are calling for more
research to fill the gap. Corporations and
governments are both supportive of the
idea as well. Indeed, in February 2009
the u.S. Congress approved a National
Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) that,
among other things, will boost funding
of risk-related research (see page 8).
Similar programs are going forward
across the developed world.
As a leader in risk management, Zurich
is also heeding the call. The insurer has
piloted and now begun implementation
of a software product that helps identify
risks regarding nanoparticles. The Zurich
Nanotechnology Exposure Protocol™,
or ZNEP™, translates the latest nano-
technology research into risk assessment
and risk management for Zurich Above It may take a lot of data to know the full risk potential of a given nanoparticle
customers (see page 2).
Regardless of such proactive measures
by industry, caution will often rule the
day. Already, the u.S. EPA has taken the
nanosilver petition seriously. Registration
of some products is now mandatory. nAnoboTs RUlE … noT
Law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher 8
expects in 2009 increased “federal True, some British newspapers and scientists later picked up by Michael Creighton in
dismissed Prince Charles as an ignorant the novel Prey, Drexler imagined a swarm
efforts to control nanosilver products.” technophobe when, in May 2003, the heir of nanobots that would spread like locusts,
This, they contend, will be the thin end to the throne warned, as one report put it, cutting a swathe of destruction, turning
of a wedge; controls will in time branch “that swarms of rogue ‘nanomachines’ “the biosphere to dust in a matter of days.”
out to other nanomaterials. On this front could one day reduce all in their path to
Zurich is stepping forward as well, ‘gray goo.’” London’s Sunday Times 9 Impossible? Not necessarily. Nanobots
headlines ran “Charles Gets in a Wee Tizz have an extremely successful role model,
offering its expertise to regulatory over Nanotechnology”. commonly known as life. Living cells are
debates and standards-setting processes essentially nanobots. They replicate all the
(see page 2). But to be fair to the crown prince, he did time, and sure enough, life has indeed
not start the specter of ‘gray goo’. It was taken over the world.
first publicized in the 1980s by a respected
In order to promote public safety scientist, Eric Drexler, who since founded Before you run for cover, take heart that
without stifling innovation, an informed a nanotechnology-focused think tank, scientists who accept Drexler’s ideas – even
public dialogue about the realities of the Foresight Institute. Drexler’s ideas were Drexler himself – do not see an attack of
nanomaterials’ pros and cons, both its magnified to a much larger audience by the nanobots coming anytime soon, if ever.
white and its black magic, will be an August 2000 article in Wired magazine Luminaries such as Cambridge university’s
by Bill Joy, then Chief Scientist at Sun Professor of Nanotechnology Mark Welland
healthy for everyone. Nanotechnology Microsystems and all-round technical guru. and the Nobel Laureate and co-inventor of
is complex, and the effects of various Buckyballs Harry Kroto put it firmly in the
nanoparticles on human welfare and the Drexler’s idea was that nanotechnology realm of comic books.
environment will not lend themselves to could create tiny machines, sometimes
called molecular assemblers, or nanobots. Still, there is one aspect of the nanobot
an easy, one-size-fits-all approach. Their main job would be to do worries that could be put to rest today: the
nanochemistry – synthesizing compounds a lumping together of nanobots and
few atoms at a time – which could be nanomaterials.
incredibly handy when it comes to making
3 http://www.technologyreview.com/nanotech/17805/ things like drugs or computer chips. And Yes, both are very tiny, both involve
?a=f here comes the kicker: the nanobots would nanotechnology, but otherwise they are not
4 http://www.nanotechproject.org/process/assets/ also be able to clone themselves. Create really similar. So treating their potential
one, feed it, and soon you have a whole benefits and dangers as one and the same
executive_summary_5_1_08.pdf colony beavering away. is inaccurate and unhelpful. Clearly, both
6 http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/scimedemail/ nanomaterials and nanobots are serious
la-op-salvi-kimbrell26feb26,0,4037148.story However, there could be a catch. As Drexler issues, and both are worthy of serious
speculated in a 1987 book, Engines of attention. But they are separate issues,
8 http://www.gibsondunn.com/publications/Pages/ Creation: The Coming Era of and moreover, nanomaterials already are
EPAOpensPublicCommentPeriodConcerningNanotechno- Nanotechnology, the little critters just on the shelves in everyday products, while
logyRegulation.aspx might take over the world. In a scenario nanobots exist only in the comics.
12 INDuSTRY INSIGHT
Size of nanoparticles,
measured in billionths
of a meter.
(sEE pAgE 2)
NANOTECHNOLOGY Projected revenues from
u.S. dollars, 2015.
FACTs And FIgUREs (sEE pAgE 4)
Nanotechnology refers to the methods of manipulating atoms and
molecules to create new structures. Nanoparticles measure less than
100 nanometers (nm), or a billionth of a meter. Engineered
nanomaterials are extremely pure and may not act in the same way as
Portion of nanotechnology
the material in bulk state. Zurich is piloting the Zurich Nanotechnology research subsidies devoted
Exposure Protocol™ (ZNEP™) to help our customers understand how to toxicology.
to manage the potential risks from this new technology. (sEE pAgE 8)
Estimated number of
attributed to nanoparticle
exposure by ‘Magic Nano.’
(sEE pAgE 10)
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including any information, methods or safety suggestions contained herein. Moreover, the Group reminds readers that these articles cannot be assumed
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