Tiny man-made particles that cannot be seen with the naked eye are rapidly entering the lives of people around the world. Nanotechnology is growing fast despite unknown potential toxic effects on humans and the environment. It may however help with new treatments for cancer and provide engineering marvels.
Nanoparticles can be small spheres, sharp tubular structures, cubes, rods or clumps of particles. Nanotechnology is being studied for thousands of applications that can impact every facet of society, yet accounting for their behavior in consumer products, in the body, and the environment is proving to be problematic for industry and regulatory bodies such as the FDA, EPA and Health Canada.
Nanotechnology bridges scientific disciplines such as chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering and provides a wide range of applications. In fact, nanotechnology is projected to be so ubiquitous in the world that it is considered a disruptive technology. Nanomaterials are very small particles of approximately 100 nm (a human hair can range from 10,000 to 50,000 nm) with unique behaviors and properties.
The particles can be produced with complex chemistry but essentially they are created by decreasing the size of larger particles down to very small ones. Alternatively, we can build nanoparticles by piecing together atoms and molecules into nanoscale particles with cutting edge tools. Particles reduced to this size take on new properties that researchers hope to exploit for commercial benefit.
These new properties, however, may also cause toxicity in a different manner than traditional chemicals.