Health and Environment Lawyer at ClientEarth
The smallest car in the world is one billionth of a metre. 60,000 times smaller than the thickness of a hair. And is self-propelled. Instead of carrying people or freight, it could transport molecules and atoms and be used to reconstruct damaged cells.
Nanoparticles can perform tasks that were previously never thought possible.
In recent years, nanomaterials have been increasingly used in consumer products, from sunscreens to food containers, heralded for making disinfectants that bit more effective or helping to disinfect your socks and underwear. They have even been used to clean up water contaminated with heavy metals.
But the shrinking of particles to a nanoscale can change their properties. As with many emerging technologies, we still have little understanding of the impacts these tiny particles have on our health and the environment. More and more studies are warning of the potential hazardous properties of nanoparticles. For example, nanosilver is known to wash through the sewage system into the water course and kill beneficial bacteria, which in turn disrupts ecosystems. Günter Oberdörster, a prominent expert on nanomaterials and author of the Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) paper of the year in 2008, recently advised against any use of products containing nanomaterials in sprays, for cleaning surfaces or in self-cleaning materials.