59A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

 GeSi quantum dots -- a mere 15 nanometers high and 70 nanometers in diameter.
 
Small is Beautiful?
June 11, 2009
 
With the recent spate of health crises including SARS, swine flu, bird flu, arsenic poisoning, HIV, - there is no apparent end to the list of diseases and substances attacking the human population.  The World Health Organization has declared Swine flu to be an official “pandemic, ” the first in forty one years.  Around the world there is heightened awareness of powerful infectious diseases, toxic pollutants and tainted drinking water.  From a distance one might think that the global population is on the verge of a health crisis "tipping point."  And maybe it is. 

On the positive side of things at least we become conditioned to taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of infectious disease.  The use of pesticide infused mosquito nets can eliminate malaria in parts of the world where it runs rampant.  Malaria afflicts nearly half a billion people  and is the cause of death for some four to five million annually.  India’s arsenic poisoned groundwater affects a third of a billion people.  China gasps with seven out of  ten of the world’s most polluted cities.  Air pollution from vastly expanding factories prematurely kills more than 400,000 each year, and the number is rising.  Ambient concentration of total suspended particulates is above World Health limits in all of China's cities monitored for air quality.  Concentrations of sulfur dioxide (SO2) in one city is ten times the WHO guideline. 

A common denominator in most of these afflictions is air-borne matter.  Infectious diseases like influenza spread through aerosol contact, often from sneezing and coughing.  We seem to becoming aware of the extreme dangers of air-borne toxics and pollution with each new crisis.  And in some cases we are aware of the potential for disease from new and untested particulates.  One such particulate has been confirmed by a detailed, peer reviewed study of the residue found in lower Manhattan following the twin towers tragedy.  The finding by a team of scientists using advanced materials analysis, confirms the presence of an entirely new class of toxic materials known as nano-particles.   So new is this finding and so new are these materials (to chemical physicists) that they are not sure what the specific health hazards are.  The study, titled Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe,(1) indicates nano-particulates to be highly energetic, active substances that spread in clouds of dust around Manhattan island and neighboring boroughs.

The dangers this class of materials hold are on two levels.  One, nano-particles such as these are extremely small; on the order of 100 nanometers across.  Particulates, especially this small (one tenth the thickness of human hair) are absorbed into the lungs where they react with human tissue and blood causing respiratory disease like pulmonary alveolar proteinosis.  The second is tissue damage due to incendiary burns and inhalation of residual smoke.  The heavy acrid smoke around Manhattan following the 9/11 disaster lasted nearly four weeks and could be readily detected in the air onwards of six months.

The concerns these materials raise is for human health amidst a whole new class of toxic emissions.  As advanced chemical engineering results in more nanoscale materials and those materials enter our atmosphere, the potential for serious health issues rise.   In fact it appears that nanoscale materials health hazards may outweigh concerns from traditional biological disease in the not too distant future.  While we generally do not subscribe to the media barrage of catastrophe in the waiting - a little preparation makes good sense.  It would behoove the World Health Organization and international medical community to study the potential dangers of this whole new category of  nananoscale materials.   In the end, small may not always be  beautiful.

(1)
The Open Chemical Physics Journal  ISSN: 1874-4125, pp.7-31 (25) Authors: Niels H. Harrit, Jeffrey Farrer, et al…