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October 17th, 2006
Philip Ball: When a fire at the chemistry department of the University of Texas, Austin, several years ago required firefighters to enter the labs, they were horrified to discover that there were inflammable substances inside. The department briefly faced the threat of having to label every door with warnings to that effect ("Danger: this chemistry lab contains ethanol").
Still, it could be worse: they could have been forced to state "Danger: this chemistry lab contains chemicals".
If the ETC Group, an environmental organization based in Ottawa, Canada, has its way, we'll be forced into the same nonsensical bind for nanotechnology. The call for a nanohazard warning sign is of course more a publicity stunt than anything else. But the skewed thinking on which it is based could undermine efforts to put much-needed regulation of nanoparticles on a sound footing.
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