The people who run the Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University (ACUNU) wanted to better understand the "Potential Environmental Pollution and Health Hazards Resulting from Possible Military Uses of Nanotechnology," along with "Implications for Research Priorities Helpful to Prevent and/or Reduce Such Pollution and Hazards."
They put together a panel, which included representation from CRN (Center for Responsible Nanotechnology), and conducted a "Two-Round Expert Delphi" survey. Here is what they did and what they found:
An expert panel of 29 participants identified potential military uses of nanotechnology that might occur between 2005–2010 and 2010–2025 with their potential for causing health hazards or environmental pollution. The expert panel also identified and rated research questions whose answers might produce knowledge to help prevent or reduce the health hazards and environmental pollution from potential military uses of nanotechnology.
The final report highlights several "potential military uses of nanotechnology that might occur between 2005–2010" with "potential for causing health hazards or environmental pollution," such as:
· Nanomaterials (e.g., nanotubes) in uniforms and equipment to make them stronger and lighter could lead to nanofiber-like materials that break off from uniforms and equipment and enter the body and environment
· Nanoparticles as surface coverings to make it harder, smoother, and/or more stealthy could erode and be inhaled by military staff and the general population
· Nanomaterials used as filters to remove selected impurities from fluids could become very low in cost and hence ubiquitous, and result in many small but discrete concentrations of possibly toxic impurities
For the period of 2010 to 2025, potential uses and hazards include:
· Artificial blood cells (respirocytes) that dramatically enhance human performance could cause overheating of the body, bio-breakdowns, and their excretion could add to the environmental load.
· Large quantities of smart weapons — especially miniaturized, robotic weapons and intelligent, target-seeking ammunition without reliable remote off-switches could lead to unexpected injury to combatants and civilians, destruction to infrastructure, and environmental pollution.
· Small receptor-enhancers designed to increase alertness and reduce the reaction times of humans could cause addiction and/or subsequent Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, leading to weakness, neural damage, and death.
Please note that these are not necessarily the U.S. Army's plans, but only the opinions of an "expert panel."
Top-ranked research priorities as recommended by the panel include:
· How are nanoparticles absorbed into the body through the skin, lungs, eyes, ears, and alimentary canal?
· Once in the body, can nanoparticles evade natural defenses of humans and other animals? What is the likelihood of immune system recognition of nanomaterials?
· What are potential exposure routes of nanomaterials - both airborne and waterborne?
· Could nanoparticles enter the food chain by getting into bacteria and protozoa and accumulate there?
· How will nanomaterials enter the environment and will they change when moving from one medium (e.g. air) to another (e.g. water)?
· How to identify and dispose of nanomaterial litter?
· How can nanotechnology be used for post-battlefield cleanup (including biological, chemical, and nuclear wastes) so that they do not pollute soil and water?
CRN was pleased to participate in this study, and we hope the results will be put to good use.
As we have said before, the next two decades will see more change than perhaps the previous 50 years. Being prepared in advance for responsible employment of benefits and effective management of hazards from all emerging technologies -- especially molecular manufacturing -- is essential.