Nanotechnology is still a futuristic rather than a contemporary industry

Nanotechnology: Consequences for human health and the environment 

R E Hester and R M Harrison (eds) 

Cambridge, UK: RSC Publishing 2007 | 34pp | ?49.95 (HB) ISBN 9780854042166 

Reviewed by Dennis Rouvray

Nanotechnology is still a futuristic rather than a contemporary industry and may at present be said to be at an evolutionary stage rather than a revolutionary one. However, it is unlikely to be long before all of this changes dramatically. In fact the rapid advances expected to be made in this technology over the next decade has led one leading US economic forecaster to conclude that the worldwide manufacture and sale of nanotechnological products will total around $2.6 trillion by the year 2014.  

With such a seductive prospect just around the corner, it seems opportune to ask whether there may be a downside to this anticipated development. One major problem belatedly receiving urgent attention is that nanoparticles pose a serious health risk to those exposed to them - and that there appears to be no minimum threshold below which such exposure is harmless. 

The present book takes a careful look at the hazards posed by nanoparticles and makes a balanced assessment of the benefits and disadvantages of forging ahead with large-scale nanotechnology. It stresses that there are still many gaps in our knowledge of the toxicological effects of nanoparticles and that further research is urgently needed. 

Nanoparticles’ main point of entry into the body is via the inhalation of air polluted by a variety of combustion processes, including the operation of waste incineration plants and vehicle engines. It seems that upon entering the human body, nanoparticles cause oxidative stress and induce inflammation that subsequently spreads from the original site of deposition. The eventual consequences can be severe and range from asthma, through cancer to heart attacks. 

Because of the timely and important message it contains, this is a work that I feel should be read by all those who may be contemplating any activity that involves contact with nanoparticles, though the not inconsiderable price of this comparatively slim volume could well prevent some individuals from investing in a personal copy.