Monday, 24 January 2011

"Killer paper" holds promise, and danger?

Source: ACS
The march of nanotech silver particles in the fight against bacteria seems relentless.

Readers of this blog may recall the technology lies at the heart of the Tata Chemicals' Swach water filter which won the ICIS Innovation Awards in 2010. And the chances are your socks also contain silver nanoparticles to fight odour-creating bugs.

Now, researchers in Israel's Bar-Ilan University have come up with a way of depositing silver nanoparticles on the surface of paper, holding out the prospect of antibacterial food packaging materials. The trick, outlined in a recent paper in the American Chemical Society's journal Langmuir, is to use high-frequency sound waves to make sure the silver coats the paper and stays there.

The coated paper has shown potent activity against E coli and S aureus, two frequent causes of food poisoning.

The news is bound to raise alarm bells amongst those concerned over the proliferation of nanotechnology, especially when it comes to the matter of food contact and potential oral ingestion. The fate of nanoparticles entering in the human body is a fertile area for speculation. National bodies are conducting research and preparing guidelines for such cases, and the chemical industry is very keen to be seen to be taking a responsible role in developments.

As I reported in ICIS news on this issue, in this respect the industry has to get it right. It is no longer appropriate to bring new technologies to the table and hope the public will simply wave them through. Risks and benefits have to be quantified and openly discussed in a way the public can understand and react to.

When that debate includes health and food safety – two concerns close to everyone’s hearts – then the communication needs to be spot-on and the industry needs to ensure it is in the ring as a trusted participant, not as a partial provider of partial information.

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