Nanotechnology PR

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Public Concern About Nanotechnology

A September 2005 report on public attitudes towards nanotechnology, commissioned by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, revealed a susbtantial level of public wariness of the technology. [1] (Pdf)

Against a background of earlier survey results that were hostile to the new technologies the survey stated that its purpose was "to find out what steps government and industry could undertake to improve trust."

The survey was based on focus groups in Cleveland, Dallas, and Spokane comprising a total of 177 people. The project leaders, the report states, "provided them with balanced, clearly written information on nanotechnology and on U.S. regulatory and policy-making bodies relevant to nanotechnology."

"The information packets included four sets of briefing materials to explain applications of emerging nanotechnologies, including such areas as consumer and personal product applications and products created by the convergence of biotechnology and nanotechnology," the report states. However, the materials are not appended to the report.

The survey tested a range of propositions and in some cases tested the same question both before and after the discussion. Some of the key findings were:

  • "Participants were concerned about the existence of hundreds of nanotechnology-enabled products in the marketplace and the expenditure of billions of dollars of taxpayer money on nanotech R&D without public involvement;"
  • "Study participants felt political pressure has in the past interfered with protections for public safety. Regulatory agencies were thought to be trying to do their job to ensure public safety, but limited by outside pressure from providing appropriate levels of protection;"
  • "The majority of study participants felt that voluntary safety standards applied to industry would not be sufficient to manage the potential risks associated with nanotechnology; 55% said government control beyond voluntary standards is necessary, while 33% were unsure. Only 11% felt voluntary standards would be adequate;"
  • After they had learned about nanotechnology, participants were asked: "Should nanotechnology be banned until further study of possible risks?" 76% of the respondents said "a ban is overreacting." An additional 16% said "don’t know;" 8% supported a ban of new nanotechnology products;"
  • "Agencies whose trust figures were lower after citizens learned about nanotechnology and regulatory responsibilities were FDA (43% did not trust and 13% don’t know, while 44% do trust) and USDA (45% did not trust, 16% don’t know, while 39% do trust). In the discussion part of the study, concerns about FDA regulations were raised in all 12 groups;"
  • "Examples of past regulatory, environmental, and human health errors, given to support concerns in several categories, included Vioxx, Viagra, Phen Fen (dietary pills), DDT, asbestos, nuclear power, lead in gasoline, jet fuel contaminating military bases, and genetically-engineered foods;"
  • The moderator observed that "Participants were disturbed that so little information about long-term health effects of nanotechnological products, particularly consumables, is available even though products are coming out on the market. This was true of environmental effects as well." One respondent keyed in on this as a concern: "You aren’t talking about the long terms effects and what is known. Why?;"

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