Nano-tech Street Protest on Chicago's Magnificent Mile

The protest group "THONG", this week, used Street-Theater tactics on Chicago's Michigan Avenue to draw attention to one of the first commercial nano-tech involved consumer products, a branded line of stain and water repellant clothing. Looking at the store sign, can you guess who the target market is?

While some media reports called the Thonger's and Tongettes "naked", you can see that we're talking about something....well, half-naked and body decorated looks to be more accurate. More on the subject of their ire after the fold.The firm that supplies the "nano-tech" coated fabric is called Nanotex. Based on the THONG-issued (Topless Humans for Natural Genetics) press release, the water and stain repellant fabric gets these properties from being coated with a finely divided (nano-scale particle size) Teflon-like plastic (uncorroborated information at the time of this posting).

Assuming they are correct about the coating, THONG chose an odd example to make a wider point about nano-tech, because there's hardly anything manmade that's more inert and less likely to cause a biological problem than a highly flourinated plastic. But, taking advantage of place, market, and novelty, this protest did get some notice.

Here's what TreeHuggers should be paying real attention to (scroll down past that picture now will you!). Nano-technology, as a research or product innovation topic certainly does need some serious attention in the risk management department.

New example: "In a challenge to conventional wisdom, scientists have found that buckyballs dissolve in water and could have a negative impact on soil bacteria. The findings raise new questions about how the nanoparticles might behave in the environment and how they should be regulated, according to a report scheduled to appear in the June 1 print issue of the American Chemical Society's peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology. ACS is the world's largest scientific society".

The general idea that THONG so skinfully addressed is that nano-tech materials may theoretically exist in forms never encountered over the millenia of evolution, such that metabolic responses for detoxification or adaptation will be rendered less effective, or may not even exist. What, for example, if dissolved Buckyballs (a classic nano-material) were able to cross the brain/blood barrier and accumulate in brain tissue, partioning associated metals with them? The basic truth of toxicology, where "dose makes the poison" could be a stretch in that sitiuation.

No evidence indicates that wearing Eddie Bauer brand clothing is a hazard. Nor is there reason to believe that manufacturing or waste disposal practices pose a unique prooblem. However, the notion that risk should be evaluated carefully before creating involuntary exposures is reasonable. It is possible that EB had done their homework with Nanotex, completeing a risk assessment, and that THONG never bothered to find out. Or not. That is the naked truth TreeHuggers.

by: John Laumer