Friday, June 19, 2009

Nano-Technology Hurdles to Come

I see technology stocks on the rise... and I'm wondering -- how much of this growth is being driven by nano-technology?

With current worldwide annual investment in nano-technology research and development at $9.6 Billion and set to grow to $1 Trillion by 2015, investors and the financial industry might well be excited.


Actually, let's make that a...


There might be a few things that investors aren't being told.

Older investors will most likely recall how asbestos turned into a financial catastrophe for firms around the globe. Well, a new report on nano-technologies put out by Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN) claims:
"...some of these technologies are showing signs of posing serious hazards to human health and the environment, including the same kind of grave threats resulting from exposure to asbestos." [link to pdf]
Nanotechnologies are now commonly found in sunscreen, cosmetics, food, clothing, sporting goods and packaging. In fact, you might be surprised to find the wide range of applications for nanotechnologies that are already in use.

Companies like Avon, RBC Life Sciences, Cadbury, Miller Lite, The Sharper Image, Procter & Gamble and many more are embracing nanotechnology, already deploying nanotechnologies in either their products and/or their packaging. Even Japanese toothpaste firms are running with it. But many of these companies have not disclosed the risk potential (read very expensive law suits) that could be hiding on the horizon once science and long-term effects catches up with them.

Other companies blazing the trail on nanotechnologies include Nestle, Altria, H.J. Heinz and Unilever... it's not known for certain if they are already deploying the technology in their products and/or packaging.

To be fair, some of them aren't even fully aware of the potential risk to human health and/or the environment.

Let's take one type of nano-technology already showing alarming results under scientific scrutiny: the use of nanosilver as an antimicrobial agent.

The use of nanosilver as an antimicrobial agent is now widespread, with a wide variety of products now on market shelves. The petitioners discovered no fewer than 260 self identified nano-silver consumer products. A recent study reported that nano-silver could harm the immune system, and other researchers have suggested that if nanoparticles from disinfectants get loose and into the body, they might wreak havoc with the human immune system. [link to pdf]
Interestingly, even though firms currently using nanosilver in their products are now aware of the potential risk associated with it, they step around the risk/danger by removing -- not the nanosilver (at least, not that we know of) -- but instead, they simply remove the term "antimicrobial" from their ads and labels and product descriptions.


Problem solved.


Yeah, right. (sarcasm intended)

Who's looking out for you, the end user, on this one?

Who is looking out for the workers in the plants handling this material?

And who is looking out for the investors who probably have absolutely no clue about the bad news/potential risk.

Here's another nanotechnology causing great concern in the scientific community: carbon nanotubes.


A particular group of nanomaterials, carbon nanotubes, raises special concerns because they are similar in shape and rigidity to asbestos fibers. Carbon nanotubes are "seamless cylinders of hexagonal carbon networks and are 10,000 times thinner than a human hair. They are a hundred times stronger and six times lighter than steel and are used in adhesives, coatings and polymers and as electrically conductive fillers in plastics to make polymers more resistant against temperatures, harsh chemicals, corrosive environments, extreme pressures and abrasion."

Multiple laboratories have already independently found that certain carbon nanotubes can cause progressive, irreversible lung damage in test rodents. Two 2003 studies conclusively showed lung damage from exposure to certain carbon nanotubes. Further studies on this topic have increasingly strengthened the link between certain carbon nanotubes and pulmonary damage. [link to pdf]

When it hits the fan, you better believe that investors will find out right quick.

You see... unlike asbestos, which was used commonly across many industries spreading the risk, nanotechnologies can actually be traced directly back to the source -- faster and easier than most any other "ingredient" or application.

If you want to learn more about the "Eight Corporate Liability Accounting Loopholes that Regulators Must Close" to prevent another asbestos-like catastrophe from working its way through the entire globe...

Or if, like me, you're curious as to just how safe all this nanotechnology stuff really is...

Then you want to grab a cup of coffee and sit down to read this eye-opening report. You won't regret it. But you might regret it if you just pass it on by.

Here is the link.

And here are a few more little excerpts from the report for your reading pleasure.

Excerpt #1:
"As a result of weak regulations, companies do not assess, quantify or disclose potential and pending liabilities on a timely basis... Today, as potentially ultrahazardous nanotechnologies enter the market, the same regulatory weaknesses that allowed asbestos manufacturers to conceal information from investors are being abused once again to conceal information regarding the newer technologies. Regulators must act now to prevent a repeat of past financial disasters, and to ensure that investors' expectations of forthright accounting are met. Although our report focuses on product-related liabilities, many of our findings are equally applicable to the broader array of contingent liabilities that appear in disclosure reports and financial statements."

Excerpt #2:
Nanomaterials can represent a special threat to health and safety because the unprecedented manipulation of particles at the molecular scale brings with it unprecedented toxicity expectations - as the particle size decreases so dramatically, materials are able to penetrate the body much more aggressively. In addition, the molecular scale causes reactivity to increase so that harmful effects can be intensified. Previously harmless substances may even take on hazardous characteristics.

Excerpt #3:
Laboratory studies indicate that some nanoparticles ingested from food or water, or breathed in, can pass through the intestinal walls or lungs and reach the bloodstream, allowing them almost unrestricted access to the human body. Some inhaled nanomaterials can access the brain, as they can pass the blood-brain barrier via the olfactory nerve.

Excerpt #4:
Despite the growing number of nanotech food products on the market, consumers have no way of knowing which products contain nanotechnology. Other proposed uses of nano in food include: "interactive" drinks that contain nanocapsules that change color and flavor, spreads and ice creams with nanoparticle emulsions that improve texture, and nanocapsules that carry nutrients and flavors into the body, increasing their bioavailability.

The complete report (52 pages) can be read on the IEHN website through this link.

(And you can watch a video interview with the author of the report.)

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