Emerging Exposure Risks and Ethics of the Nanotechnology Workplace

Emerging Exposure Risks and Ethics of the Nanotechnology Workplace

Silvanus J. Udoka, Chi Anyansi Archibong
DOI: 10.4018/ijnmc.2011100103
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As the applications of nanotechnology continue to span various industries, the number of workers who may be in regular contact with nanomaterials correspondingly expand. The excitement associated with the promise of opportunities to create revolutionary advances in product development using nanotechnology must be moderated with the fact that there is a paucity of empirical data about the potential health effects of exposure to nanoparticles. This lack of exposure data hinders the development of nanotechnology health and safety guidelines (Murashov, 2009). Nanotechnology is science at the size of individual atoms and molecules. At that size scale, materials have different chemical and physical properties than those of the same materials in bulk. With the current state of knowledge in this field, there are unanswered questions about the impacts of nanomaterials and nanoproducts on human health and the environment. This paper reviews the state-of the-science, exposure assessment and mitigation, and potential macro ethical issues that must be considered to mitigate risk implications this emerging technology, nanotechnology.
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Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating extremely small particles in materials. It involves the manipulation of matter at the atomic and molecular level, and has the potential to make groundbreaking advances in technology, medicine, and green environmental initiatives (Balbus, et al., 2005). ‘The novel properties that emerge as materials reach the nanoscale (changes in surface chemistry, reactivity, electrical conductivity, and other properties) open the door to innovations in cleaner energy production, energy efficiency, water treatment, environmental remediation, and “lightweighting” of materials, among other applications, that provide direct environmental improvements”(Baum, Drexler, and Smalley, 2003, p.65).

Although numerous studies have documented that nanotechnology can provide astounding benefits to humankind, there are others that suggest we must be aptly cautious before allowing nanotechnology based products to become part of our environment. There is concern that the novel properties that make nanotechnology so attractive may pose yet undiscovered risks to consumers of nanotechnology based products, occupational safety and health of the nanotechnology workplace, and the environment. This chapter seeks to highlight a variety of ethical concerns that arises from and must be adequately addressed to ensure that ensure that exposure of humans and our environment to nanotechnology is rigorously assessed and mitigated.

Effective discussion of any potential ethical issues relating to Nanotechnology must be preceded by definition and understanding of this phenomenon. There are several versions of definitions as well as claims on what nanotechnology can do and cannot do. This paper examines some select definitions and uses the identified characteristics to examine the potential ethical issues.

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