Letters

Letters 07-06-2015

Safety on the “Bridge to Nowhere” Grant Parsons wrote an articulate column in opposition to the proposed Traverse City pier at the mouth of the Boardman River. He cites issues such as limited access, lack of parking, increased congestion, environmental degradation, and pork barrel spending of tax dollars. I would add another to this list: public safety...

Vote Carefully A recent poll showed 84% of Michiganders support increasing Michigan’s renewable energy standard to at least 20% from the current 10%. Yet Representative Ray Franz has sponsored legislation to eliminate the standard. This out of touch position is reminiscent of Franz’s opposition to the Pure Michigan campaign and support for increased taxes on retirees....

Credit Where Credit Is Due I think you should do another article about the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund giving proper credit to all involved, not just Tom Washington. Many others were just as involved...

I’ve Changed My Mind The Supreme Court has determined that states cannot keep same-sex couples from marrying and must recognize their unions. This has happened with breathtaking suddenness. It took 246 years for Americans to decide that slavery was wrong and abolish it, but it’s been only a couple of decades since any successful attempt was made to legalize same-sex marriage, and four years since a majority of the American public supported legalization...


Home · Articles · News · Features · Beware the new nano sunscreens
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Beware the new nano sunscreens

Harley Sachs - June 15th, 2006
Nanotechnology may turn out to be the newest bogeyman of science. Author Michael Crichton made much of this in his thriller, “The Swarm,” in which microscopic nano robots functioned like a colony of intelligent killer bees. He was exploiting a well-known risk in scientific development: the law of unanticipated consequences.
Some of us still remember the unanticipated consequences of thalydomide, a drug then banned in the U.S. by a cautious FDA scientist. Taken by pregnant women who got the drug in Europe, the resulting deformities created a rash of infants with flipper-like vestigial arms. And no one anticipated the consequences of DDT; created as an insecticide, it threatened to become the cause of a world without birds. Is that sort of nightmare likely to happen again?
You never know. Substances that are harmless in one form acquire new characteristics when reduced to nano size.
Just what is a nano? It’s one billionth of a meter. I once saw a nanosecond illustrated by a length of wire about a foot long. It was the distance electricity, traveling at the speed of light, could travel in a nanosecond. As described in the “Rachel’s Democracy & Health News,” a free Internet newsletter, “a human hair is 80,000 nanometers wide. A strand of DNA is 3.5 nanometers across.” A nano particle is that tiny.
That’s part of the allure of the new nanotechnology. At such small sizes, ordinary substances acquire totally different characteristics, including toxicity. Strange things happen when ordinary substances like the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in your sunscreen are reduced to nano size.
In chemistry, nano particles have an enormous increase in surface area. As such, their ability to absorb UV light is greatly increased, just the thing when you’re shielding the skin from harmful sunlight. But what makes cosmetics and sunscreens that use nano materials absorb through the skin quickly also allows them to penetrate the cells themselves and to travel throughout the body.
They can even affect parts of living cells and may impact DNA. The unanticipated result of this technology is the reason why the International Center for Technology Assessment has filed a 79-page petition to the FDA to ban all sales of cosmetics and sunscreens that use nano technology until they are proven to be safe. They ask that such products be declared a hazard to public health. They want all nano substances to be classified as new drugs, subject to the same testing and scrutiny as medicines.
Most of us realize that asking industries to voluntarily regulate themselves is naïve at best. Industries argue that they are over-regulated. Consider how many drugs have had to be recalled. Cynical corporate lawyers regard payments of claims by survivors to be an acceptable cost of doing business. Is losing a spouse or child an acceptable risk?
The FDA argues that particle size doesn’t matter, that zinc oxide is zinc oxide even when reduced to nano size. Unfortunately, there are no current laws requiring companies to label cosmetics and sunscreens to warn users of the potential, untested hazards of nano substances. There’s no way to know whether the sunscreen you apply today may turn out to be toxic as those tiny particles travel throughout your body.
When I was a kid we never used sunscreen. Girls rubbed themselves with baby oil so they could brown like fried chicken. We couldn’t wait to get down to the beach. Inevitably we burned and peeled before we got that deep “darky” tan, so dark that I was once mistaken for an African-American.
Those days are over. Now in summer I wear white painter’s pants and long-sleeve white shirts and a Foreign Legion hat. With a summer on the water ahead of me, all that reflected sunlight, and the risk of skin cancer from the accumulated damage of those early sunburns, it looks like I’ll have to smear my nose and lips with plain old white and goopy zinc oxide. Even a parasol won’t protect you from reflected UV rays. What a sight!
Let’s hope the FDA acts quickly at least to require appropriate warning labels on cosmetics and sunscreens with nano substances.

P.S.: For more information you can subscribe to Rachel’s Democracy & Health News, it’s a free Internet newsletter. Visit the web site www.hu.mtu.edu/~hlsachs where you can listen to two stories, read a third, read reviews, and find links to the publishers of my books.
 
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