Tag Archives: Fern Wickson

Risk assessments not the only path to nanotechnology regulation

Nanowerk has republished an essay about nanotechnology regulation from Australia’s The Conversation in an Aug. 25, 2015 news item (Note: A link has been removed),

When it comes to nanotechnology, Australians have shown strong support for regulation and safety testing.

One common way of deciding whether and how nanomaterials should be regulated is to conduct a risk assessment. This involves calculating the risk a substance or activity poses based on the associated hazards or dangers and the level of exposure to people or the environment.

However, our recent review (“Risk Analysis of Nanomaterials: Exposing Nanotechnology’s Naked Emperor”) found some serious shortcomings of the risk assessment process for determining the safety of nanomaterials.

We have argued that these shortcomings are so significant that risk assessment is effectively a naked emperor [reference to a children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes“].

The original Aug. 24, 2015 article written by Fern Wickson (Scientist/Program Coordinator at GenØk – Centre for Biosafety in Norway) and Georgia Miller (PhD candidate at UNSW [University of New South Wales], Australia) points out an oft ignored issue with regard to nanotechnology regulation,

Risk assessment has been the dominant decision-aiding tool used by regulators of new technologies for decades, despite it excluding key questions that the community cares about. [emphasis mine] For example: do we need this technology; what are the alternatives; how will it affect social relations, and; who should be involved in decision making?

Wickson and Miller also note more frequently discussed issues,

A fundamental problem is a lack of nano-specific regulation. Most sector-based regulation does not include a “trigger” for nanomaterials to face specific risk assessment. Where a substance has been approved for use in its macro form, it requires no new assessment.

Even if such a trigger were present, there is also currently no cross-sectoral or international agreement on the definition of what constitutes a nanomaterial.

Another barrier is the lack of measurement capability and validated methods for safety testing. We still do not have the means to conduct routine identification of nanomaterials in the complex “matrix” of finished products or the environment.

This makes supply chain tracking and safety testing under real-world conditions very difficult. Despite ongoing investment in safety research, the lack of validated test methods and different methods yielding diverse results allows scientific uncertainty to persist.

With regard to the first problem, the assumption that if a material at the macroscale is safe, then the same is true at the nanoscale informs regulation in Canada and, as far as I’m aware, every other constituency that has any type of nanomaterial regulation. I’ve had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, we haven’t seen any serious problems associated with the use of nanomaterials but on the other hand, these problems can be slow to emerge.

The second issue mentioned, the lack of a consistent definition internationally, seems to be a relatively common problem in a lot of areas. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t that many international agreements for safety measures. Nuclear weapons and endangered animals and plants (CITES) being two of the few that come to mind.

The lack of protocols for safety testing of nanomaterials mentioned in the last paragraph of the excerpt is of rising concern. For example, there’s my July 7, 2015 posting featuring two efforts: Nanotechnology research protocols for Environment, Health and Safety Studies in US and a nanomedicine characterization laboratory in the European Union. Despite this and other efforts, I do think more can and should be done to standardize tests and protocols (without killing new types of research and results which don’t fit the models).

The authors do seem to be presenting a circular argument with this (from their Aug. 24, 2015 article; Note: A link has been removed),

Indeed, scientific uncertainty about nanomaterials’ risk profiles is a key barrier to their reliable assessment. A review funded by the European Commission concluded that:

[…] there is still insufficient data available to conduct the in depth risk assessments required to inform the regulatory decision making process on the safety of NMs [nanomaterials].

Reliable assessment of any chemical or drug is a major problem. We do have some good risk profiles but how many times have pharmaceutical companies developed a drug that passed successfully through human clinical trials only to present a serious risk when released to the general population? Assessing risk is a very complex problem. even with risk profiles and extensive testing.

Unmentioned throughout the article are naturally occurring nanoparticles (nanomaterials) and those created inadvertently through some manufacturing or other process. In fact, we have been ingesting nanomaterials throughout time. That said, I do agree we need to carefully consider the impact that engineered nanomaterials could have on us and the environment as ever more are being added.

To that end, the authors make some suggestions (Note: Links have been removed),

There are well-developed alternate decision-aiding tools available. One is multicriteria mapping, which seeks to evaluate various perspectives on an issue. Another is problem formulation and options assessment, which expands science-based risk assessment to engage a broader range of individuals and perspectives.

There is also pedigree assessment, which explores the framing and choices taking place at each step of an assessment process so as to better understand the ambiguity of scientific inputs into political processes.

Another, though less well developed, approach popular in Europe involves a shift from risk to innovation governance, with emphasis on developing “responsible research and innovation”.

I have some hesitation about recommending this read due to Georgia Miller’s involvement and the fact that I don’t have the time to check all the references. Miller was a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth (FoE) Australia, a group which led a substantive campaign against ‘nanosunscreens’. Here’s a July 20, 2010 posting where I featured some cherrypicking/misrepresentation of data by FoE in the persons of Georgia Miller and Ian Illuminato.

My Feb. 9, 2012 posting highlights the unintended consequences (avoidance of all sunscreens by some participants in a survey) of the FoE’s campaign in Australia (Note [1]: The percentage of people likely to avoid all sunscreens due to their concerns with nanoparticles in their sunscreens was originally reported to be 17%; Note [2]: Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world),

Feb.21.12 correction: According to the information in the Feb. 20, 2012 posting on 2020 Science, the percentage of Australians likely to avoid using sunscreens is 13%,

This has just landed in my email in box from Craig Cormick at the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education in Australia, and I thought I would pass it on given the string of posts on nanoparticles in sunscreens on 2020 Science over the past few years:

“An online poll of 1,000 people, conducted in January this year, shows that one in three Australians had heard or read stories about the risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them,” Dr Cormick said.

“Thirteen percent of this group were concerned or confused enough that they would be less likely to use any sunscreen, whether or not it contained nanoparticles, putting them selves at increased risk of developing potentially deadly skin cancers.

“The study also found that while one in five respondents stated they would go out of their way to avoid using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them, over three in five would need to know more information before deciding.”

This article with Fern Wickson (with whom I don’t always agree perfectly but hasn’t played any games with research that I’m know of) helps somewhat but it’s going to take more than this before I feel comfortable recommending Ms. Miller’s work for further reading.

Journal of Responsible Innovation is launched and there’s a nanotechnology connection

According to an Oct. 30, 2013 news release from the Taylor & Francis Group, there’s a new journal being launched, which is good news for anyone looking to get their research or creative work (which retains scholarly integrity) published in a journal focused on emerging technologies and innovation,

Journal of Responsible Innovation will focus on intersections of ethics, societal outcomes, and new technologies: New to Routledge for 2014 [Note: Routledge is a Taylor & Francis Group brand]

Scholars and practitioners in the emerging interdisciplinary field known as “responsible innovation” now have a new place to publish their work. The Journal of Responsible Innovation (JRI) will offer an opportunity to articulate, strengthen, and critique perspectives about the role of responsibility in the research and development process. JRI will also provide a forum for discussions of ethical, social and governance issues that arise in a society that places a great emphasis on innovation.

Professor David Guston, director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University and co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, is the journal’s founding editor-in-chief. [emphasis mine] The Journal will publish three issues each year, beginning in early 2014.

“Responsible innovation isn’t necessarily a new concept, but a research community is forming and we’re starting to get real traction in the policy world,” says Guston. “It is our hope that the journal will help solidify what responsible innovation can mean in both academic and industrial laboratories as well as in governments.”

“Taylor & Francis have been working with the scholarly community for over two centuries and over the past 20 years, we have launched more new journals than any other publisher, all offering peer-reviewed, cutting-edge research,” adds Editorial Director Richard Steele. “We are proud to be working with David Guston and colleagues to create a lively forum in which to publish and debate research on responsible technological innovation.”

An emerging and interdisciplinary field

The term “responsible innovation” is often associated with emerging technologies—for example, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, geoengineering, and artificial intelligence—due to their uncertain but potentially revolutionary influence on society. [emphasis mine] Responsible innovation represents an attempt to think through the ethical and social complexities of these technologies before they become mainstream. And due to the broad impacts these technologies may have, responsible innovation often involves people working in a variety of roles in the innovation process.

Bearing this interdisciplinarity in mind, the Journal of Responsible Innovation (JRI) will publish not only traditional journal articles and research reports, but also reviews and perspectives on current political, technical, and cultural events. JRI will publish authors from the social sciences and the natural sciences, from ethics and engineering, and from law, design, business, and other fields. It especially hopes to see collaborations across these fields, as well.

“We want JRI to help organize a research network focused around complex societal questions,” Guston says. “Work in this area has tended to be scattered across many journals and disciplines. We’d like to bring those perspectives together and start sharing our research more effectively.”

Now accepting manuscripts

JRI is now soliciting submissions from scholars and practitioners interested in research questions and public issues related to responsible innovation. [emphasis mine] The journal seeks traditional research articles; perspectives or reviews containing opinion or critique of timely issues; and pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning responsible innovation. More information about the journal and the submission process can be found at www.tandfonline.com/tjri.

About The Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU

The Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU (CNS-ASU) is the world’s largest center on the societal aspects of nanotechnology. CNS-ASU develops programs that integrate academic and societal concerns in order to better understand how to govern new technologies, from their birth in the laboratory to their entrance into the mainstream.

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About Taylor & Francis Group

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Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life.  As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioural Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine.

From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

You can find out more about the Journal of Responsible Innovation here, including information for would-be contributors,

JRI invites three kinds of written contributions: research articles of 6,000 to 10,000 words in length, inclusive of notes and references, that communicate original theoretical or empirical investigations; perspectives of approximately 2,000 words in length that communicate opinions, summaries, or reviews of timely issues, publications, cultural or social events, or other activities; and pedagogy, communicating in appropriate length experience in or studies of teaching, training, and learning related to responsible innovation in formal (e.g., classroom) and informal (e.g., museum) environments.

JRI is open to alternative styles or genres of writing beyond the traditional research paper or report, including creative or narrative nonfiction, dialogue, and first-person accounts, provided that scholarly completeness and integrity are retained.[emphases mine] As the journal’s online environment evolves, JRI intends to invite other kinds of contributions that could include photo-essays, videos, etc. [emphasis mine]

I like to check out the editorial board for these things (from the JRI’s Editorial board webpage; Note: Links have been removed),,

Editor-in-Chief

David. H. Guston , Arizona State University, USA

Associate Editors

Erik Fisher , Arizona State University, USA
Armin Grunwald , ITAS , Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany
Richard Owen , University of Exeter, UK
Tsjalling Swierstra , Maastricht University, the Netherlands
Simone van der Burg, University of Twente, the Netherlands

Editorial Board

Wiebe Bijker , University of Maastricht, the Netherlands
Francesca Cavallaro, Fundacion Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Spain
Heather Douglas , University of Waterloo, Canada
Weiwen Duan , Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China
Ulrike Felt, University of Vienna, Austria
Philippe Goujon , University of Namur, Belgium
Jonathan Hankins , Bassetti Foundation, Italy
Aharon Hauptman , University of Tel Aviv, Israel
Rachelle Hollander , National Academy of Engineering, USA
Maja Horst , University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Noela Invernizzi , Federal University of Parana, Brazil
Julian Kinderlerer , University of Cape Town, South Africa
Ralf Lindner , Frauenhofer Institut, Germany
Philip Macnaghten , Durham University, UK
Andrew Maynard , University of Michigan, USA
Carl Mitcham , Colorado School of Mines, USA
Sachin Chaturvedi , Research and Information System for Developing Countries, India
René von Schomberg, European Commission, Belgium
Doris Schroeder , University of Central Lancashire, UK
Kevin Urama , African Technology Policy Studies Network, Kenya
Frank Vanclay , University of Groningen, the Netherlands
Jeroen van den Hoven, Technical University, Delft, the Netherlands
Fern Wickson , Genok Center for Biosafety, Norway
Go Yoshizawa , Osaka University, Japan

Good luck to the publishers and to those of you who will be making submissions. As for anyone who may be as curious as I was about the connection between Routledge and Francis & Taylor, go here and scroll down about 75% of the page (briefly, Routledge is a brand).

Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements at the 4th annual S.NET conference

My proposal, Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements, for the 4th annual S.NET (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) conference was accepted. Mentioned in my Feb. 9, 2012 posting, the conference will be held at the University of Twente (Netherlands) from Oct. 22 – 25, 2012.

Here’s the abstract I provided,

The convergence between popular culture’s current fascination with zombies and their appetite for human brains (first established in the 1985 movie, Night of the Living Dead) and an extraordinarily high level of engagement in brain research by various medical and engineering groups around the world is no coincidence

Amongst other recent discoveries, the memristor (a concept from nanoelectronics) is collapsing the boundaries between humans and machines/robots and ushering in an age where humanistic discourse must grapple with cognitive entanglements.

Perceptible only at the level of molecular electronics (nanoelectronics), the memristor was a theoretical concept until 2008. Traditionally in electrical engineering, there are three circuit elements: resistors, inductors, and capacitors. The new circuit element, the memristor, was postulated in a paper by Dr. Leon Chua in 1971 to account for anomalies that had been experienced and described in the literature since the 1950s.

According to Chua’s theory and confirmed by the research team headed by R. Stanley Williams, the memristor remembers how much and when current has been flowing. The memristor is capable of an in-between state similar to certain brain states and this capacity lends itself to learning. As some have described it, the memristor is a synapse on a chip making neural computing a reality and/or the possibility of repairing brains stricken with neurological conditions. In other words, with post-human engineering exploiting discoveries such as the memristor we will have machines/robots that can learn and think and human brains that could incorporate machines.

As Jacques Derrida used the zombie to describe a state that this is neither life nor death as undecidable, the memristor can be described as an agent of transformation conferring robots with the ability to learn (a human trait) thereby rendering them as undecidable, i.e., neither machine nor life. Mirroring its transformative agency in robots, the memristor could also confer the human brain with machine/robot status and undecidability when used for repair or enhancement.

The memristor moves us past Jacques Derrida’s notion of undecidability as largely theoretical to a world where we confront this reality in a type of cognitive entanglement on a daily basis.

You can find the preliminary programme here.  My talk is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 in one of the last sessions for the conference, 11 – 12:30 pm in the Tracing Transhuman Narratives strand.

I do see a few names I recognize, Wickson, Pat (Roy)  Mooney and Youtie. I believe Wickson is Fern Wickson from the University of Bergen last mentioned here in a Jul;y 7, 2010 posting about nature, nanotechnology, and metaphors. Pat Roy Mooney is from The ETC Group (an activist or civil society group) and was last mentioned here in my Oct. 7, 2011 posting), and I believe Youtie is Jan Youtie who wss mentioned in my March 29, 2012 posting about nanotechnology, economic impacts, and full life cycle assessments.

Quebec’s new report on the risks of engineered nanoparticles

Engineered Nanoparticles; Current Knowledge about OHS [Occupational Health and Safety] Risks and Prevention Measures is the title for a report (2nd edition) written by Claude Ostiguy, Brigitte Roberge, Catherine Woods, and Brigitte Soucy for the Quebec-based Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST). From the news item on Nanowerk,

An initial assessment of the state of scientific knowledge about the occupational health and safety aspects (OHS) related to synthetic nanoparticles (NP) was published by the IRSST in 2006 and covered the scientific literature until the end of 2004. What was found was that OHS knowledge was very fragmentary but that research in this field was rapidly growing. This current document aims to assess the state of current knowledge in this field and summarizes the data available until early 2010.

Overall, what emerges is that NP remain an important source of concern in OHS. In fact, not only does the diversity of commercially available chemical products of nanometric dimensions continue to increase, but also, the information available about the hazards specific to these substances is still very fragmentary. The literature gives us very little information specific to NP relating to their physical hazards like fires or explosions.

In a context of incomplete data for the majority of nanometric substances, it remains impossible to quantify the risks for workers in the majority of situations because the toxicity of the products, the level of dust contamination of workplaces, or their potential to cause fires or explosions remain not extensively documented or totally undocumented. Nevertheless, the majority of the means of exposure control for ultrafine particles should be effective against NP and much research is currently being carried out to confirm this.

In a context of uncertainty about the risks, and with an increasing number of potentially exposed workers, the current report paints a big picture of the OHS knowledge currently available in the NP field. In the absence of specific standards, a preventive and even a precautionary approach are recommended, and a review of the available means for minimizing worker exposure is presented.

The report (over 150 pp.) can be found here. There’s certainly much to appreciate in the report. Here are two bits that I particularly want to highlight, the acknowledgment that nanoparticles aren’t new,

Although the development of NT [nanotechnology] is a modern multidisciplinary science, naturally produced and manmade materials of nanometric dimensions and exposure to particles of other dimensions of mineral or environmental origin, including the fine fraction of nanometric particles, have always existed. Some of the natural nanometric particles are of biological origin – including DNA with a diameter of around 2.5 nm and many viruses (10 to 60 nm) and bacteria (30 nm to 10 μm) — while others are found in desert sand, oil fumes, smog, and fumes originating from volcanic activity or forest fires and certain atmospheric dusts. Among those generated by human activity, we should mention diesel fumes, industrial blast furnace emissions and welding fumes, which contain particles of nanometric dimensions (Teague, 2004). (p. 11 PDF, p. 1, print)

There’s also a very good (in my opinion) description of bottom-up and top-down approaches to engineered nanoparticles,

Nanoparticles can be synthesized by different approaches. Nanoparticle production can be generally categorized into the bottom-up and top-down methods. In the bottom-up approach, nanoparticles are constructed atom-by-atom or molecule-by-molecule. In the top-down approach (top-down), a large structure is gradually underdimensioned, until nanometric dimensions are attained after application of severe mechanical stresses, violent shocks and strong deformations. The two approaches bottom-up and top-down tend to converge in terms of dimensions of the synthesized particles. The bottom-up approach seems richer, in that it allows production of a greater diversity of architectures and often better control of the nanometric state (relatively monodispersed granulometric sizes and distribution, positioning of the molecules, homogeneity of the products). The top-down approach, although capable of higher-volume production, generally makes control of the nanometric state a more delicate operation. (p. 25 PDF, p. 15 print)

Ostiguy (last mentioned in my June 23, 2010 posting [Nanomaterials, toxicity, and Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health] as an expert witness) and his colleagues offer a good overview of  international, national, and provincial (Québec) research and development efforts including definitions for terms and descriptions of various types of nanoparticles and a discussion about markets. I was expecting something more narrowly focused on occupational health and safety (OHS) but very much appreciate the efforts to contextualize OHS issues within the larger nanotechnology ‘enterprise’ in addition to the OHS material.

Oddly, I found this on the cover page,

Disclaimer

The IRSST makes no guarantee regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information contained in this document. In no case shall the IRSST be held responsible for any physical or psychological injury [??? and emphasis mine] or material damage resulting from the use of this information.

Note that the content of the documents is protected by Canadian intellectual property legislation.

As for any psychological injury I may received from reading the report, what about injury from reading the disclaimer?

I do have a few nits to pick. Surprisingly since this report was published in July 2010, they did not include any information about an April 2010 nanomaterial definition proposed in the US (my April 27, 2010 posting). More picayune, reference is made to Nanotech BC which has been effectively defunct since Spring 2009 while no mention is made of Nano Ontario which I first noticed in early 2010 (Professor Gilbert Walker responded on behalf of Nano Ontario to Peter Julian’s proposed nanotechnology legislation in my March 29, 2010 posting).

I was also surprised at the certainty expressed about scientific unanimity over the dimensions,

As already mentioned, there is now unanimity in the scientific community on the dimensions of manufactured NP: at least one of their dimensions ranges between one and 100 nm [emphasis mine] and they have different properties than larger-diameter particles made of the same material (ASTM, 2006; BSI, 2008; ISO, 2007, 2008). (p. 49 PDF, p. 39 print)

As I understand it, there’s still some discussion about the one to one hundred nanometre range as I note here in my July 14, 2010 posting,

The comment about the definition sprang out as this issue seems to be at the forefront of many recent discussions on nanotechnology. Fern Wickson and her colleagues highlight the importance of the issue in their recently published paper,

Both the beginning and the end of this range remain subject to debate. Some claim that it should extend as low as 0.1nm (because atoms and some molecules are smaller than 1nm) and as high as 300nm (because the unique properties of the nanoscale can also be observed above 100nm). The boundaries of ‘the nanoscale’ are highly significant in both scientific and political terms because they have the possibility to affect everything from funding, to risk assessment and product labelling. [my commentary, Wickson’s response, and a citation for the paper, etc. can be found in my July 7, 2010 posting]

I do recommend reading the IRSST report if this sort of thing interests you as it offers answers to questions that you may (and, in my case, certainly) have been asking yourself about quantum dots, carbon black, and the state of OHS research and regulations in Canada and elsewhere.