Tuesday, November 01, 2005


It is microscopically tiny and most agree that it could one day revolutionise medicine, manufacturing, energy production and life in the 21st century. But the ultra-fine particles created for cosmetic, industrial and high-technology uses could prove to be as deadly in future as asbestos is today, according to groups calling for a moratorium on "nanotechnology". The moratorium should stay in place until more is known about the health effects of the new technology and a licensing system is introduced for the thousands of different microscopic nanoparticles being created, the groups say.

The technology involves manipulating and engineering matter at an atomic or molecular level - so extraordinarily small that it can change the physical properties of the particles, developing new products, but also new and unknown hazards. At this scale, the standard measure is a nanometre - one billionth of a metre, or about 1/80,000th the width of human hair. The diameter of DNA, our genetic material, is in the 2.5 nanometre range. At this size, it is possible that particles can enter the bloodstream through the skin barrier, or from the lungs and intestinal tissue.

Even though there are no specific regulations governing it, nanotechnology is already used in areas such as electronics, pharmaceuticals, sunscreens, and optical fibres. Products on the market range from computer displays, self-cleaning windows, paints, varnishes and wrinkle creams. In Australia, government and industry invest about $100 million a year in nanotechnology. About 50 companies use or are researching the technology and the Australian Research Council finances more than 200 nanotechnology projects. The State Government has invested $12 million in Nanotechnology Victoria, a venture between Monash, RMIT and Swinburne universities and CSIRO that aims to commercialise the technology. As well as high-technology applications, nanoparticles are found in the by-products of diesel engines, furnaces and welding.

The director of lobby group GeneEthics, Bob Phelps, says: "Each type of nanoparticle may be as deadly as asbestos so the worker and public health challenge is huge." He wants a national new technology assessment and regulation office created to research the environmental, occupational and public health risks involved. He says 25 per cent of the investment in nanotechnology should be spent on research.

Friends of the Earth estimates that 300,000 Australian workers could be exposed to nanoparticles in the refining and welding fields; a further 33,000 may be exposed through handling various fine powders, mainly in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, and about 700 in universities and R&D companies. Friends of the Earth says a "regulatory vacuum" surrounds nanotechnology. It supports a moratorium on the research, development and manufacture of synthetic nanoparticles until regulations are developed to protect workers, the public and the environment from exposure. "This could prevent huge human and financial costs and waves of expensive compensation claims from injured persons, as has been seen with asbestos," it says in a submission to a Senate committee inquiry.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has demanded research into the risks to workers and for nanoparticle exposure levels to be regulated. It wants manufacturers and importers regulated and nanoparticles to undergo safety assessments before being used in products. The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union also points to Australia's high asbestos-related mesothelioma rate and says: "It would be an act of negligence to future generations if we did not heed the concerns now being raised in the research community about the health effects of nanotechnology." The union says it has grave concerns about the exposure of workers in laboratories and commercial research departments, where unions and regulators often do not have the power to investigate. "It has been our bitter experience that due to the new and exciting nature of the work, worker health and safety is often jeopardised."

The federal Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, said the Government was developing a national nanotechnology strategy to be completed by June next year. Environmental health-and-safety issues would be considered as part of the strategy. "We already have in place a well-developed national regulatory framework addressing occupational health-and-safety and environmental issues," Mr Macfarlane said. "But I've asked . whether this framework should be updated, given development in nanotechnology. As legislators, we also have a responsibility to move with the times - as science and industry do. Nanotech is now more than just an emerging science and has to be considered in legislative sense."

More here


I will admit that my first acquaintance with government planners was a planning class in my Master's program, where I was given the party line about how important it was to plan for growth. I read dozens of books, by some very brilliant writers, bemoaning the fact that our society doesn't plan growth, and I was treated to descriptions of the planning utopia that would exist if we just "planned" our growth.

I then sat on a City Planning Commission.

Anyone who thinks that planning for "growth" is anything other than a exercise in futility is still experiencing the mind-altering visions that their college chemicals visited upon him or her so many years ago. Today's planners meet in little rooms, draw pretty pictures on paper maps, use the prettiest crayons they can find, and - whamo - the city has a plan. Wonder and utopia are supposed to follow, and never again will the city experience traffic congestion or cosmic disharmony.

We also don't have enough houses, apartments, or commercial buildings. More important, these necessary commodities all end up in the wrong place, and their placement seems to increase traffic and school congestion. The great plans, drawn by the learned planners, in search of community utopia, have all failed.

The fact is, people build stuff where they want to build it, when they want to build it, and how they want to build it, no matter what the government says. The only reason they don't build it is that the government will throw them in jail if they don't comply with the plan. The only people that don't build the right stuff in the right place at the right time are those that work for the government. In other words, we don't have traffic congestion because of developers;we have traffic congestion because planners don't build roads, and the government has more planners than they have road builders.

When the government draws up a plan, the plan works if the people who own the land agree with the plan (that is, if they think they will make money if they follow the plan). If they don't think they will make money, the land stays vacant. Interestingly enough, even developers don't decide what will get built, as they are also subject to market forces.

Homebuyers and retail customers decide by choosing to visit the business or buy the homes that are built. Nobody builds a home that no one will buy, or starts a business that no one will visit. Customers and home buyers decide; not business, not developers, and particularly not government planners.

That is why I chuckle whenever I hear my colleagues in Sacramento talk about "ten year plans." This week, the Legislature had a bill for a "ten year" road plan. Of course, in California, it takes 23 years to build a freeway, because we plan and plan, and never build. The Legislature's solution? Another plan. We have planned so well in this state that today our roads are extremely congested, our houses cost entirely too much, our schools are horrendously overcrowded, our budget is out of balance, and we are running short on water, electricity and gasoline.

And we continue to extol the virtue of government plans. We know that socialism is a failed experiment, as demonstrated by the failure of the Soviet Union, socialism's most devoted practitioner. My socialist colleagues in the Legislature, however, think that they are smarter than the Russians and that socialism will work here in California if we just have the right plan. The most recent polls tell us that the public is not satisfied with how we are doing our job. Maybe we should try something different, like freedom and free enterprise, the principles that made this country great.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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