Will Nanotechnology Help or Hurt Our Environment?

Nanotechnology could work miracles for our environment; it may provide new ways to reduce pollution as well as our ecological footprint. Nanosilver, which kills microbes, may help clean up oil spills and other harmful chemicals. Also, Nanotechnology may filter and clean dirty or salty water in a cheap and efficient manner, which has huge implications for many parts of the developing world.

But as we have seen before, many of nanotechnology’s exciting possibilities also come with potential setbacks. Nanosilver, for example, can be very toxic. In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deemed it a pesticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Nanosilver is already used in many products because of its antimicrobial properties — so what happens when these silver nanoparticles wash out of the products into the environment?

Nanotechnology may produce miniature sensors that detect certain pollutants in the environment. Filters made of nanoparticles could then help remove these pollutants. And the possibilities don’t end there. Not only could nanotechnology create self-cleaning surfaces to reduce existing pollution, but it may even prevent industries from polluting in the first place. That is, of course, assuming we aren’t polluting the environment with the nanoparticles themselves. This could be especially problematic because recycling products with nanomaterials may be more difficult than usual. What’s worse, we may not be able to detect nanoparticles once they are released into the environment. If we later discover that we are harming wildlife and ecosystems, we may be stuck without a way to recycle or clean up the tiny particles.

Nonetheless, nanotechnology also offers innovative possibilities in the world of renewable energy. Various solar products look promising, like spray-on plastic solar cells that harness infrared light from the sun. We may be able to paint a hydrogen-powered car with a film that could continually recharge the car’s battery by converting energy into electricity. We might even be able to create nanogenerators that power things like cell phones by using our bodies’ kinetic energy.  Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me.

Despite the claims that nanotechnology will make energy production, storage, and conservation more efficient, we need more life cycle assessments to verify the reality of these promises. Some scientists think that making nano-applications will actually require a lot more energy than people had thought necessary, resulting in more damage to the environment than good.

Whether we’re talking energy conservation or environmental clean up, the few existing studies on the topic show that some nanomaterials may be harmful to algae, invertebrate and fish, which we use as environmental indicators. Evidence also suggests that nanoparticles can be passed down generationally in both plants and animals. Two types of carbon nanomaterials may also delay rice flowering by at least 1 month, which could diminish one of the world’s most vital crops.

Needless to say, we have a lot to watch out for. But we also need to be careful not to mix and match different aspects of nanotechnology because there’s an entire universe of different particles with many nuances. Some nanoparticles, born from the earth’s fires and volcanic eruptions, have been present since the very beginning — so organisms have adapted to them. But engineered nanomaterials are a different story, and even within that genre, many variations exist. Diesel and welding fumes, for example, have been releasing nanoparticles for years. Ultimately, we just don’t know how the different man-made nanoparticles will interact with the environment. We shouldn’t throw ourselves into the production of all these innovations before we understand the consequences. The last thing we need is a remedy that’s a toxin in disguise.

Sign the petition calling on congress to halt the commercialization of nanotechnology before we understand the risks.  Also, stay tuned to find out about the ethics involved with nanotechnology.


Electrah DM
Electrah DM8 years ago

Nanosilver may seem like a natural agricultural pesticide, (Greenpeace promotes this?) but the synergistic effects of electromagnetic radiation must be considered. We don't put tinfoil in the microwave.or hold a key in a lightning storm due to the nature of electromagnetic waves and metal. Given today's climate of electrosmog and microwave radiation, ingesting metal does not seem wise anymore. Silver in particular "has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal" (Wikipedia)

Claire M.
Claire M9 years ago

This is industry we are talking about here. The people at the wheel live in a canopy culture and do not see the consequences of their actions often or they do not want to.

Its all about dealing with what they have to deal with with as little cost as possible to them. They will find innovative ways to take short cuts or hide problems because it is simply a better business model for them to do that.

So yes expect all kinds of issues to come of this new technology. Also do not forget that industry loves to recycle by products [nothing says profit like finding a use for refuse]. I cant wait till they start putting nano-tech by products in our food.

megan m.
megan m9 years ago

You already hit the nail on the head with this one:

"Ultimately, we just don't know how the different man-made nanoparticles will interact with the environment. We shouldn't throw ourselves into the production of all these innovations before we understand the consequences. The last thing we need is a remedy that's a toxin in disguise."

To save our environment, we need to change our consumerist attitudes. We need to focus more on reducing our impacts on this planet with every action and decision we make. We don't need more products, no matter how "innovative" they may seem, we need to consume LESS and produce LESS. That is the only way to truly reduce our impact on our Earth. Once we've reduced our impact, then we can focus on cleaning up whatever mess is left; otherwise our mindset will be 'well, we can just clean it up later, so lets just keep right on doing things the way we've been doing them'. nope.

An-Drew B.
An-Drew B9 years ago

This is not a good ideal due o the side effects that it will cause. I believe that there are much better ways to clean up the environment. The people that are involved in these activities need to study the natural way our planet cleans itself and then enhance these natural activities. This will ensure that everyone and every animal will become much better in a safe manner.


Mr. An-Drew Boger
2:42 P. M. E. S. T.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L9 years ago

I think we should learn from our mistakes. We should not be using nanotechnology until we fully know what we are getting into. Why is it that we always, always have to jump the gun? I asked that question fully understanding that it is greed. Greed of profit and what it will get us.

We have done enough damage to our planet and our lives. Although nanotechnology sounds promising, it is also very much like the prescription drug commerical. The drug sounds promising but the side effects could kill you.

Let do your research and take it slow this time.

Susan T.
Susan T9 years ago

Nano technology production gobbles water like there is no tomorrow. The one proposed in Saratoga County NY will use so much water that the public will have to use Hudson River Water for home supply. You really want something to worry about WATER is the one we should be concerned about. The oil shale industry pumps millions of gallons of water, loaded with chemicals into the shale to drive out the natural gas or oil. That water has to go somewhere and will eventually contaminate the ground water at many levels.

Shevlin R.
Shevlin R9 years ago

Ummm, how do answer this poll? Is "suffer" on the "no" side and "gain" on the "yes"?

My take on the results vs the comments is that most are answering the question as if it were worded "Will our environment suffer from nanotechnology?" (the words "or gain" are omitted).

I did not answer due to the ambiguity.

Kai J.
Kai J9 years ago

There is an ancient wisdom which says that before you turn over a stone make sure it is absolutely necessary, for you don't know what it is you will be disturbing by your actions.
I have no patience for the 'pro-active' let's do everything now mentality. "They know not what they do"; it was true then and it is still true now. Messing about with nature is simply a cardinal sin and should be considered a criminal act, whether you are the polluter or you are, most probably, part of the science-machine with some 'new' technology. When are people going to realise that curing an ill only comes about through prevention. Once it's happened, it's too late, but throwing MORE untried and thoroughly untested 'events' at the Earth will only further the effect of killing us off. The Earth will survive, always has, always will, until our Sun extinguishes.
So the question is how will it harm us and our fellow inhabitants? If there is no definitive answer offered, then simply DO NOT DO IT! Whatever the so-called merits and benefits are supposed to be.
Apart from this, see that Science has just become big business and is purely about money. There are no longer any real scientific ideals out there, only government backed stupidity, and the blinkered, self-centered activities of modern 'scientific' man.

Alastair L.
Alastair L9 years ago

We will be playing "Oh there's a downside?!" kind of catch-up with nanotechnology as we are with soil destroying chemical farming, splitting the atom and so many other fields of applied science technology.

It's a fact of life that people only see karma (natural law of cause and effect) when it becomes very painful to them alone.

Aurora H.
Past Member 9 years ago

We need all the help we can get to help us ease as gently as possible into what seems inevitably an Earth-changing near future that has already begun. Let's leave no stone unturned that shows promise!!!!!!!