Life-Cycle Assessment of Nanotechnology and Health

Jay Wright Forrester
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Sustainable Nanotechnology: Through Green Methods and Life-Cycle Thinking (16 page pdf, Sustainability 2010, 2(10), 3323-3338, Oct. 25, 2010)

Before futurist Jay W. Forrester at MIT, developed the “World” model for the Club of Rome in 1970, he focussed on the same Systems Dynamic approach by applying it to an urban setting.  Many years later, we are still learning that a cradle-to-grave approach is needed to build pollution-free sustainable cities, especially with the advent of electronic devices such as TVs and cell phones, whose lifetimes are measured in weeks or months. The result of this and even greater miniaturization is an ever growing mountain of highly toxic materials which form part of either urban waste centres or shipments to even bigger mountains in China, India and other countries, as discussed in this post E-Waste

The article reviewed today assesses the life cycle of nanotechnology with some interesting observations such as the need to identify health impacts as soon as possible in development of these devices.

Key Quotes
“Sustainability and futures studies are linked to each other; the time scales involved may be different from the individual viewpoints of stakeholders, depending on whether they are futurists environmentalists. Futures thinking calls for planning in the time scale of hundreds of years whereas the environmental research community may think in terms of a few decades at the most”

“the need to conduct ―life cycle-based assessments as early in the new product development process as possible, for a better understanding of the potential environmental and human health consequences of nanomaterials over the entire life cycle of a nano-enabled product”

“The wide-ranging applications of nanotechnology have an equally widespread potential to adversely affect human health and the environment, through various exposure routes of nanoparticles, including occupational exposure”

“nano-based products that seem environmentally preferable over other alternatives in the Use stage may not actually turn out to be so when the whole life cycle is considered”

“the effects on human health and the environment are characterized based on environmental loadings… calculated using formulas based upon quantities of pollutants discharged to air, water, and land.”

Risk Assessment goes from quantities of pollutants discharged to analyzing their effects under ambient conditions, through various exposure pathways”

“current Life-Cycle Assessment methodology, developed for use with conventional bulk materials, needs to be reconsidered and modified, if necessary, to make it suitable for evaluating nanomaterials”

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