Nano materials are now very commonly used in hundreds of products, and it is likely that in the future their usage will increase even further. Though they are extremely useful, and take technology to a new level, like any other thing, they also have their pros and cons.
Health hazards may be caused either due to direct use of products containing Nano materials, or in the process of production or even accidentally. In any of these cases, human health, as well as the environment will be adversely affected. The unique properties that are being exploited by these Nano materials (e.g. high surface reactivity and ability to cross cell membranes) might have negative health impacts. A big disadvantage for us is that the research on the toxicity of Nano materials is not taking place as fast as the materials themselves are being developed and put to use.
For example Lux, has conducted a research based on how Nano materials currently used in day-to-day items like soap, sun-screen lotions, cosmetics etc will have an effect on our health. The use of Nano materials in day-to-day cosmetics will result in absorption of these materials through the skin, which may have ill effects on the skin in the long run. Also, the Nano materials used in bio weapon skin shields will be hazardous for the skin, and can cause skin cancer, and other skin diseases. Another effect may be that they might get flushed into the environment, and enter the food chain. Also, Nano tubes are being put to use in uniforms and other equipment to make them lighter and more flexible. In this case Nano fibre like materials can break off from these objects, and enter the body and the environment causing the same adverse effects. These are just two examples of the effects that Nano materials may have in today’s time.
It is estimated that in the future nano scale sensors and also artificial blood cells (respirocytes) will become a common feature. In this case, Nano scale sensors will litter the environment and get mixed up with the soil, water and air. This may lead to environmental changes taking place, which are beyond our comprehension as of today. Respirocytes on the other hand seem to be a breakthrough in the medical field, and are expected to help many patients suffering from Anaemia, Asphyxia etc. The Respirocyte also has 236 times more capacity to carry oxygen than our natural red blood cells. As, miraculous as it may sound, this too has its negative effects. This can cause overheating of the body, leading to bio-breakdowns. Also the excretion of these Nano materials will cause pressure on the environment.
Experimental studies on animals seem to suggest that, if the concentration of Nano materials in the body is increased, along with its other properties of physio-chemistry and functionality, it can prove to be important in the acute inflammatory and chronic response. In other animals, it is seen that these Nano materials get deposited in the liver and intestines, and target the brain, and vascular system. The consequences of what the reactions will bring about cannot be predicted.
Thus the research aspect of this fantastic science is very important in order to enjoy its fruits without falling prey to the health hazards.
N. Trikala Satya
[Image courtesy: http://www.tcd.ie/Advanced_Materials/images/nanotube.JPG]