Letters

Letters 05-02-2016

Facts About Trails I would like to correct some misinformation provided in Kristi Kates’ article about the Shore-to-Shore Trail in your April 18 issue. The Shore-to-Shore Trail is not the longest continuous trail in the Lower Peninsula. That honor belongs to the North Country Trail (NCT), which stretches for over 400 miles in the Lower Peninsula. In fact, 100 miles of the NCT is within a 30-minute drive of Traverse City, and is maintained by the Grand Traverse Hiking Club...

North Korea Is Bluffing I eagerly read Jack Segal’s columns and attend his lectures whenever possible. However, I think his April 24th column falls into an all too common trap. He casually refers to a nuclear-armed North Korea when there is no proof whatever that North Korea has any such weapons. Sure, they have set off some underground explosions but so what? Tonga could do that. Every nuclear-armed country on Earth has carried out at least one aboveground test, just to prove they could do it if for no other reason. All we have is North Korea’s word for their supposed capabilities, which is no proof at all...

Double Dipping? In Greg Shy’s recent letter, he indicated that his Social Security benefit was being unfairly reduced simply due to the fact that he worked for the government. Somehow I think something is missing here. As I read it this law is only for those who worked for the government and are getting a pension from us generous taxpayers. Now Greg wants his pension and he also wants a full measure of Social Security benefits even though he did not pay into Social Security...

Critical Thinking Needed Our media gives ample coverage to some presidential candidates calling each other a liar and a sleaze bag. While entertaining to some, this certainly should lower one’s respect for either candidate. This race to the bottom comes as no surprise given their lack of respect for the rigors of critical thinking. The world’s esteemed scientists take great steps to preserve the integrity of their findings. Not only are their findings peer reviewed by fellow experts in their specialty, whenever possible the findings are cross-checked by independent studies...

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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