No, No, Nano!

You have balls in your mouth

by Michael Braunstein

Sometimes I forget things. As I dressed the scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning, I drizzled a little Kraft Organic Ketchup from the plastic bottle. (Okay, I know, ketchup is junk food.) Down to the dregs of the container, I watched, pleased, as the finally dollops drained from the bottle, leaving none behind. “How cool,” I thought. “They’ve figured out how to formulate ketchup so it doesn’t leave a ton of it in the bottle.” Then, and only then, did I remember why. Nanotechnology made the insides of the bottle so slick that the ketchup slid right out. That recollection left me less than pleased.

CU, later. In 1971, I sat in the front row for a talk by Buckminster Fuller when he visited Creighton University. Then 77-year-old Fuller was a hero to rebellious youth of the era because of his futuristic and holistic view of the universe. Fuller coined the phrase “Spaceship Earth” and invented the geodesic dome. His relevance to nanotechnology is due to the fact that a specific molecule of carbon discovered in 1985 resembles his geodesic design. That was the eponymous fullerene, nicknamed “Bucky Balls”, and led to further development of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is a relatively new field of manipulating matter on the level of atoms or molecules, very tiny. Nanotechnology and nanoscience involve the study of phenomena and materials, and the manipulation of structures, devices and systems that exist at the nanoscale, that is less than 100 nanometers (nm) in size. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A molecule of sugar is about 1 nm, about as big in relation to an apple as an apple is in relation to the earth. A human hair is about 80,000 nm thick. By rearranging things on such a tiny scale, science can revise the properties and performance of materials. Things behave differently down in the world of very tiny. Nano particles are so small, they easily squirm past the skin and move right into the body, even penetrating cell walls with ease. Any protective barrier is like a screen door in a submarine: useless. Nanoparticles are already in your body. Some of the existing products include cosmetics, sunscreens, powders, anti-bacterial wound dressings — even the battery in your cell phone. And worse, food!

The potential uses for nanoparticles and nanotechnology sound like true science fiction. Cornell researchers have developed nanotech fabrics that can detect biohazards like E. coli or other pathogens. Illinois scientists have built artificial skin from nanotech corn proteins and can deliver medicines into the body through nanotubes. Nanotech biosensors can monitor farm fields for pests or disease. Food producers experiment with rearranging molecules to make foods taste different or feel different in the mouth. Food packaging can be manipulated to detect pathogens or preserve the color of food longer.

Size Matters So why worry about nanoballs? Well, they’re so small they fall through skin, through blood, through cell walls. They penetrate. They go where no man has gone before. Altering the scale of a particle alters its safety. All these nano-products involve producing new molecules in the laboratory that have never before existed in nature at that scale and it can radically change the material’s characteristics. When reduced to nanoscales, an innocuous metal such as aluminum, stable at natural size, becomes explosive, for example. The question is, what effect do nanoparticles have on health?

There are already thousands of consumer products that contain or use nanotechnology. A report by concerned scientists of the National Research Council states that there are little to no safeguards in place to study the potential toxic effect of those humanly re-engineered molecules. Nanoparticles have been shown to cross into the brain after inhalation.

A scrubbing bubble full of trouble. In 2006, a company in Germany released a new household cleaner named “Magic Nano,” designed to clean better using nanoparticles in the aerosol. Three days later it was withdrawn from the market after 97 people were hospitalized with respiratory problems after using the cleaner. No one knows for sure whether it was the nanoparticles or not but certainly they were being inhaled. The incident sent a red flag to government agencies.

Various agencies dealing with nanotechnology are issuing warnings. The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) has recommended that employers take appropriate precautionary measures for handling new materials, including engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment, to avoid worker exposure to nanoscale materials during the production of these nanomaterials. No such cautionary advice has come out to protect the consumer who is blissfully unaware of nanoparticles emitted from sporting goods, flat screen televisions or food packaging.

Toxicologist Jennifer Sass, a senior health scientist at the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was quoted in a Scientific American article, “There’s definitely an exposure, especially from nanosilver that’s really common in consumer products as well as buckyballs and titanium dioxide in skin creams. Nanomaterials, because of their size, are more bioavailable; and because of their surface area to mass, they are more chemically reactive. How that relates to toxicity needs to be looked at.”

Nanoparticles are showing up in our food supply and we aren’t being told about it. They’re in everything from Kraft Cheese to SoBe drinks to Oreo cookies. The Woodrow Wilson Center and Friends of the Earth has a downloadable PDF with research about nano particles in common foods. They include foods like vegetable oil, teas and candy. Refrigerators and kitchen utensils are favorite uses for antibacterial nanotech. Nutritional supplements are showing up with nanoencapsulated nutrients.

Asbestos was once praised as the ultimate insulating material — until we found the particles caused cancer. The industrial lubricant PCB, the pesticide DDT, plastic bisphenol A were all supposed to be safe. Genetically modified seeds were supposed to eliminate world hunger — until research found that they actually produce less food and deplete the soil.

Maybe nanoparticles are okay and safe but maybe they’re not. They certainly don’t seem natural and we’re putting them in a body that was designed by nature. How nano balls will affect us remains to be seen. We should at least be informed by labeling when they are used.

Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit
2019.07.16 Update on nanotechnology

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