The flip side of nanotech contamination control

Although it may not be immediately apparent to everyone, contamination control has certainly been in the news a lot recently. From the health and environmental hazards created by hurricane Katrina (discussed in Doug Theobald’s column this month), to the world’s worries of an impending avian flu pandemic, people are more and more looking to contamination-control technology for solutions to the threats and challenges facing their daily lives.

From its inception, however, this publication has limited its coverage of contamination-control technology strictly to contamination-control requirements within production environments-the only exception being contamination control within healthcare facilities. As such, we focus on protection of the product and the personnel manufacturing it from contamination, and largely cease our coverage of contamination issues after a packaged-product, byproduct, or waste material has left the facility in which it was produced. These are areas well covered by other publications.

Going forward, however, this heretofore-clear delineation may be less obvious. For example, what happens when the product itself is a source of potentially dangerous contamination (i.e., nanotech-based products)? Nanoparticulate contamination will not only pose increased problems of product protection, but nanoparticles can also penetrate skin tissue to reach the circulatory system, and inhaled nanoparticles are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier.

Clearly, with the advent of nanotechnology-based products, manufacturers and the population at large must both be highly concerned about unintended, unmonitored or uncontrolled release of what are essentially nanotech contaminants. It may be that new forms of contamination control will have to be applied to manufacturing processes-controls that not only protect the product from contamination, but also ensure that the final product is itself prevented from “nanoparticulate shedding.” Other contamination-control requirements may also be imposed on some products even after they’ve left their place of manufacture. For medicines, this could take the form of specialized drug-delivery systems or tightly controlled healthcare delivery environments; and for electronic devices, it could mean tamperproof device packages.

The contamination-control industry has recognized for some time the many potential business opportunities associated with serving the researchers and manufacturers of nanotech-based products, but we should also probably start thinking about the flip-side as well-how to better control the tremendous increase in nanotech-level contamination that they will ultimately be producing. The opportunities offered by the latter may actually exceed those of the former.

– J.S.H.


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