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Home > Press > Nano: the sexy new science with lots of unanswered questions

Abstract:
Greater transparency and public engagement about the potential opportunities and risks presented by nanotechnology is required, according to a new report by The Australia Institute.

Nano: the sexy new science with lots of unanswered questions

Australia | Posted on November 25th, 2009

While still an emerging field, nanoscale sciences and technologies (nanoST) are already present in our daily lives, with more than 1000 consumer products identified as containing nanomaterials.

What you should know about nano by Dr Fern Wickson recommends an 11-point plan of action for policymaking on nanoST development.

Dr Wickson is presenting today at the Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network Conference. She will be available for comment between 10 - 11am in the foyer of the Brisbane Convention Centre.

"There is no dispute that nanoST offers exciting and diverse opportunities, but there should also be no dispute that there are far too many unanswered questions for us to have blind faith in the new technology," said Dr Wickson.

"Worryingly, early research has shown a similarity between the way the body responds to carbon nanotubes and asbestos. While there is still such a degree of uncertainty about potential risks, consumers are entitled to greater transparency about their exposure to nanoST."

In a recent report comparing regulatory governance of nanotechnology in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Europe, Australia was not described as setting ‘best practice' standards in the coordination of governance, information gathering, weighing risks against benefits and having an accountable and transparent approach.

Included in Dr Wickson's recommendations are:

• Mandatory reporting on all products containing nanotubes and other nanomaterials
• A parliamentary inquiry into nanoST
• Health surveillance and environmental monitoring of high potential exposures
• Adopting a precautionary approach to the commercialisation of the technology in cases where the potential for harm has been demonstrated, significant uncertainties remain and social benefits appear marginal.

"The experiment in nanoST has clearly already begun and as consumers and workers we are already involved," said Dr Wickson. "The question is, do we want to be and if so, how do we want to be?"

####

About The Australia Institute
The Australia Institute is the country’s most influential progressive think tank. Based in Canberra, it conducts research on a broad range of economic, social and environmental issues in order to inform public debate and bring greater accountability to the democratic process.

The Institute is funded by memberships, donations from philanthropic trusts and individuals, and commissioned research. With no formal political or commercial ties, the Institute is in a position to maintain its independence while advancing a vision for a fair and progressive Australia.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
The Australia Institute
PO Box 4345
Manuka ACT 2603
AUSTRALIA

Tel +61 2 6162 4140
Fax +61 2 6162 4144

ACN 061 969 284
ABN 90 061 969 284

Copyright © The Australia Institute

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