Saturday, April 08, 2006

Nanotech Recall in Germany

A bathroom cleaning product, claiming to utilize nanotechnology, was recently recalled in Germany due to reports of respiratory problems.

My first thought is that this is going to result in a hue and cry over the lack of reliable safety and efficacy data for most nanotechnology products now on the market. Beyond that, my next thought was whether or not the nanoparticles are really at fault.

The article suggests that the evidence is ambiguous as to whether or not the nanoparticles are to blame and, anecdotally, I'm reminded of the food poisoning outbreak in 1999 that was attributed to a bad batch of Belgian Coke. Malcolm Gladwell uses this example in the final chapter of the Tipping Point to illustrate how anxiety can be incredibly contagious. As it turned out, in Belgium, the problem wasn't that Coke was making people ill; it was that anxiety (produced by a combination of a strange odor in one batch of coke and a recent Belgian scare over contaminated animal feed) is both tremendously contagious and capable of producing very real physical effects upon people.

Is that what happened in Germany? No clue. But it certainly wouldn't shock me to find out that, at the least, rogue nanoparticles do not deserve to shoulder all of the blame. Oh, and the point of all of this is to wonder aloud, again, whether our fear of things that are unknown or uncommon, and the anxiety with which they produce, doesn’t perhaps make some of them more dangerous in the end.

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