Newsletter digest: Nanoparticle safety, NZ innovation, cellphone masts/radiation and soil carbon

Concerns raised about nanoparticles

Creating materials on the nanoscale is an area of science tipped to hold huge potential for everything from energy production to personalised healthcare.

nanoparticlesBut some observers argue that industry is jumping the gun on releasing products containing nanoparticles before adequate research has been done into their safety. The New Zealand Herald reported this week that cosmetics are being sold in New Zealand that contain nanoparticles that the cosmetics industry in Europe warn need further testing before they should be used.

The Sustainability Council of New Zealand, a think tank comprised of celebrities and scientists that carries out research into “issues related to the sustainable development of New Zealand”, this week said in a report on nanoparticles that commercialisation of the technology was “racing ahead of safety regulation”.

The Science Media Centre asked nanotechnology experts what they thought of the Sustainability Council’s report The Invisible Revolution.

Dr Simon Brown, Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Canterbury said the report was “right on the money”.

“It is indeed very concerning that, for example, cosmetics containing buckyballs appear to be on the market in NZ, when they have been withdrawn from sale in Australia.”

Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, Professor Richard Blaikie, said the council had raised “valid concerns”.

“They also highlight good practice in New Zealand with Fisher & Paykel acting responsibly in not adding ‘nano-silver’ functionality to their product lines just to follow the lead of other whiteware manufacturers.

Full comments from these scientists are available on the Science Media Centre website.

Recent SMC publications on nanotechnology:

Audio Briefing: Nanotechnology and consumers – what are the risks?
SMC Alert: Nanotechnology and the safety implications

SMC Briefing: how innovative is NZ?

Statistics New Zealand will on Wednesday release its biannual Innovation in New Zealand report, which gives a snapshot of “business innovation and performance in New Zealand”.

Science funding announcements in last month’s Budget and a revamp of the science system currently underway are designed in part to boost the level of research and development undertaken in New Zealand and encourage the transfer of technology from publicly-funded R&D institutions to the business sector.

What is our track record in innovation like? How do we measure innovation? A Science Media Centre online briefing to be held on 11am, Tuesday morning will feature a panel of experts who will examine these issues and the latest statistics ahead of the report’s release. Journalists registered with the SMC will receive log-on instructions for the web and phone briefing. For further details contact the SMC.

Cell towers and child cancer – no link

A major British Medical Journal study released this week found no link between the proximity of children’s homes to mobile phone towers and levels of early childhood cancers like leukaemia and brain tumours.

The SMC rounded up reaction from experts. The study follows the publication last month of the Interphone study which looked at use of mobile phone handsets and whether usage could be linked to increased rates of brain tumors.

The SMC held an online briefing featuring a panel of experts discussing the results of Interphone. The audio of that briefing is available for playback here

The science of soil carbon

An SMC background briefing held in conjunction with the newly-established Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre based in Palmerston North this week looked at the important issue of soil health and the factors that make it vary.

Experts from Agresearch, Plant & Food Research, Waikato University and Landcare Research cover all the angles in this briefing which can be played back here. Registered journalists can log into the SMC Resource Library to access the useful presentation slides the scientists gave.