A scientific revolution that you've probably never heard of is quietly going on. It's nanotechnology and it could change the world as dramatically as electricity or the Internet. It holds incredible promise, such as microscopic particles designed to seek out and destroy cancer cells, but a Consumer Reports investigation reveals little is being done to assess its risks to our environment and our health.
Nano particles are extremely tiny particles of ordinary substances such as carbon, silver, or aluminum. They can be 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Particles that small take on new properties. Carbon can become 100 times stronger than steel. Aluminum can turn highly explosive. And gold can melt at room temperature.
That means there's potential for incredible new products. But animal and lab studies have raised health concerns. Nano particles can enter the body's vital organs, including the brain, much more easily than larger particles.
You can't necessarily tell if nano particles are in the products that you use. A research lab equipped with a powerful scanning electron microscope found nano particles in eight sunscreens Consumer Reports had analyzed. But only one indicated nano ingredients on the label. And effectiveness tests on people's backs found sunscreens with nano particles weren't any better at blocking the sun's harmful rays.
Nanotechnology is exploding. Companies and government last year spent more than $12 billion on research and development, but there needs to be more assessment of risks and oversight of the safety. Until we know more, Consumer Reports believes labeling should be required on any products which can expose people directly to nano particles.
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