Nano particles are already in cosmetics, clothes, pesticides and a lot of other products that we are dealing with on a daily basis. But until now there is almost no research on the dangers of this technology. For instance, nano particles could pass through the skin, blood-brain-barrier and placenta - with side effects yet unknown.
Pat Mooney, awardee of the "Right Livelihood Award" and director of the „Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration“ (ETC), Canada.
Fabian Scheidler: You have also done research on nano technology. Talk about this technology and the dangers.
Pat Mooney: We came across geo engineering and in fact it’s because of nanotechnology. We’ve been told that the techniques that we use for example to change the biological surface of the ocean would be nanotechnology. It would be taking nano particles of iron and spread the iron across the surfaces of the ocean in areas where there is a nutrient deficit, for deficiency for iron. And that will be there to feed phytoplankton; the phytoplankton will gobble up the iron and absorbs the carbon dioxide, when the phytoplankton dies it will sink to the bottom of the ocean. So we learned about the problem through nano tech and this idea of nano particles. But for us the initial point was that we were being told by scientists that it’s now possible to build everything at the atomic level. That the same way you can build DNA, you can build any other materials from the bottom up. You can take gold particles, the silver particles and you construct materials from that, atom by atom basically. And that has two, I think, really major advantages for the companies that are involved. One big advantage for them is that they believe that you move out of the area of classical chemistry when you get down below a hundred nanometers and size. You get down into the area of the so called quantum effect. When you get into the quantum effects, the nature of the material is it responses to electricity, is responses to pressure, it responsess to sunlight, and so on. Changes dramatically as we move down from a one hundred nanometers to 75, to 25, to 5. And that change in the characteristics of a material mean that for a company it’s like having not one periodic table to work from but maybe seven or eight or ten periodic tables from which you can build everything else. So it’s kind of the end of the idea of having commodities. You don’t need to think about which commodities you can get from which part of the world, you simply add different scales of a nano scale. You simply have the material you need to have at that scale. That probably sounds a bit abstruse. Let me try to give you an example of that. I have a gold wedding ring and I wear it, it’s entirely safe, it’s looks nice, it’s safe. You get down to the nano scale like gold just totally benign does nothing wrong. Get in nano scale and suddenly it becomes literally a catalyze for chemical reactions. It’s quite different; its color changes from gold to red. It starts to move around, it starts to behave like it could literally explode. That’s because of this quantum effect characteristic.
Fabian Scheidler: And what are the possible dangers of this? Some people have been talking about effects on health that are unpredictable, talk about this effect.
Pat Mooney: Sure. The size itself is important because we now have like in Australia for example, South Africa, children every day, and all their lives, growing up putting on suns cream and suns creams increasingly are made of nano particles. If you put it on the surface of your arm. Let’s say and the you can tell that it’s a nano particle formulation because it’s clear. It is not a white paste that becomes clear when you rub it in or disappears. It starts off clear. And those nano particles, they are so small, so that they can sink through your skin, rate into the fiber of your body when it gets down into the scale of, let’s say, 25 nanometers of size. They can actually pass through your organs, and it goes down below that. They can pass through the blood brain barrier, they can pass through the placenta, they can go anywhere when your body damn well choose this. And that to me is quite scary. We don’t know how safe that is. The companies who are making this don’t know how safe that is. The companies that are making the suns creams don’t even know what size of nano particles they are working with. It’s not clear.
David Goessmann: Can you talk about the current restrictions of applying this nanotechnologies on products and what restrictions would be best to put people not in harms way?
Pat Mooney: Well, first of all, there are several thousands products in the market place right now. Not one of them, I believe, is identified as being a nano particle formulation. Not one of them. They are pesticides, they are foods, they are cosmetics, they are suns creams, they are computer parts, car parts, airplane parts, everything else… clothing and so on. So they are everywhere, they live with us today. There are only two regulations that I am aware of that are now being proposed or actually utilized that deal with this nano particles, one is in the United States, where they now say that if you use, if you have a washing machine for clothing, they use nano silver particles in the washing machine and that’s a pesticide and it’s regulated as a pesticide. And in the UK, pardon, in the European Union, there is a proposal for an agreement which means that it’s not yet in force, which is that cosmetics using nano particles formulation will have to be regulated as well, but that’s all there is. And the reason is not because our regulators are completely stupid, it’s not because they have been corrupted by the companies really, it is because we were talking about our materials that have been used at a macro scale for decades. For example we’ve used aluminum oxid, at the macro scale, for a hundred years. Aluminum oxid is used by dentist to repair your teeth. It’s very very save to use it at the macro scale. You can have it in your body for all your lifetime and it won’t cause any trouble at all. We rate down to the nano scale, that aluminum oxid literally explodes. The American Airforce uses Aluminum oxid to ignite bombs. It is exactly the same material that is used by the dentists except that it is used at the nano scale. But in deed, regulators never looked at that. So they say, well we approved that already for a suns cream has, we approved that for a food product before, so don’t bother coming back to us again. We’ve already accepted it. But of course again at the nano scale it’s totally different. It goes into your blood brain barrier it goes through your skin it does different things to your body, it behave in different ways.
Fabian Scheidler: And who are the main actors in this field? Who are the companies and who do this? All of them?
Pat Mooney: All of them. There isn’t a significant Fortune 500 Company at the international scale, that isn’t involved in nanotechnology. Because of the ability to diversify your raw material sources and because of the new characteristics you can get from working at the nano scale. What is really shocking, I think, and I’m more concerned quite honestly about who owns and who controls the technology that I am about the health and the environmental risks, as serious as those can be. What we see with nanotech is individual patents; where the patent applies to 33 different elements in the periodic table at the nano scale. So anyone of this 33 elements when it is used at the nano scale would be a violation of a specific patent. That’s like controlling literally what half or more of the really functioning elements of the periodic table. One single patent. And you see patents have been granted already in the United States and in Munich. Patents have been granted. Well, in fact, what the patent says is, this is used for helping to make electric motors. But it could also be used in the food and beverage industry. It could also be used in the textile industry, the explosives industry, the computer industry, the aerospace industry and it’s virtually the entire economic spectrum of industries. So we’ve never before seen a technology, which is so fundamental to nature. Where a patent can be owned that dominates really industry.
Fabian Scheidler: You have been calling for a moratorium, I think, of nanotechnology. Talk about this.
Pat Mooney: We find ourselves in an absurd situation of constantly calling for moratoriums of almost everything. We call for a moratorium on geo engineering as well and got it by the way and we got a confirm on a moratorium on Terminator seeds, for example, and got that as well. And a moratorium on ocean fertilization and got that. And we’re now saying the same is true for nanotechnology and synthetic biology, but it’s not the best way to do things. We were calling for it at the United Nations, were saying that the precautionary principal makes it quite clear that we shouldn’t be allowing nano particles, for example, in to our food and into our beverage, and into our pesticides, until we know they’re safe. It just doesn’t make sense. And we were saying the UN really has to go along with that, has to agree with that. We’ve got them in some other places, but we haven’t got them everywhere. And we feel sometimes, to be quite honest, we feel kind of silly always asking for it. We need something better than moratoriums, being ad hocto put in the place like this. We need to have as really an international conventions for the evaluation of new technologies. Something which at the UN level it has a transparent clear way in which all of us in our society can see a technology when it is first in the lab, watch it progressing in the lab, toward commercialization and be able to say at certain points: this is not safe. Or this is safe, fine, go ahead or we need to have this studied further before you are allowed into the market place. We don’t have that now. There’s nothing that exists at the UN level that makes it possible for the world to say: a technology is useful or dangerous or needs to be studied further. And we need to have that. We need to stop these ad-hoc moratoriums and really have a real strategy in place. That’s safer for us.
David Goessmann: We’re talking about nanotechnology, bio technology, geo engineering. How is this effecting especially the global houses especially Africa and the people there?
Pat Mooney: Well, Africa gets the burden of everything, it seems, in the end of the day. I mean, the proposals, they were being made around geo engineering for example are that the fast, quick, dirty way to lower temperatures is to take a place like the tarr sand in Canada, where I came from, and to use the sulfates that are there at the tarr sands to develop these sorts of pipes. There can be used nanotechnologies to build these pipes that would blow the sulfates into the stratosphere. It’s like an artificial volcano. And what that would do is, if you keep on blasting it up to the stratosphere, you would have this nano particles floating there in the temperate zone areas of the world. Floating there for about two years of a time. You have to keep on doing this, but the particles will stay up for about two years of the time. And when you do that, yes you will lower temperatures in my part of the world, in Germany as well, you will lower the temperatures. You will also again reduce the methane emission and that’s also good. But what you will also do, it seems, we are not even sure about this. But actually scientist in Germany have said that this is possible. That you would blow the Asian Monsoon of course. It would blow south of South Asia, so it misses India, Bangladesh and Pakistan which means that they would have drought in South Asia. It would blow into Africa and create chaos in the climates in Africa. We don’t know where the rain would be, where it wouldn’t be or when it would come or how strong the winds would be. But we know it would cause chaos to agriculture in Africa. But we would be fine in the North, we would be okay. No one else would be, but we would be fine. I mean, that’s the kind of danger we have. And that’s the kind of conversation that goes on. You got people at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany talking about ocean fertilization this way. That well, we could adjust the climate through that. We’ve got Paul Crutzen in Germany, Nobel laureate in this field saying, yes we could blast these sulfurs in the stratosphere. Yes it would cost perhaps 60 or 70.000 more deaths per year than we have today in the North. Because of lung disease problems and so on. But basically that’s the best way we can do things. And it’s relatively cheap. And Crutzen’s actual analysis is that there would be about, that the cost of this geo engineering would be around 50 billion euros a year. Which in climate change cost terminologies is relative inexpensive. Just kills people, that’s all.