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Are nanotech-based pesticides safe? A new report looks at the issues

October 5, 2010 | 12:46 pm

Nanoparticle The arena of pesticides -– and the battle to fight bugs out in the world's farm fields -– is expanding to include an unexpected new tool: nanotechnology.

That shift has scientists and researchers more than a bit concerned over what, without more study and a healthy dose of caution, that could mean for the environment, the global food supply and the public's health.

In a study published Monday in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, scientists from Oregon State University and the European Union outline a series of regulatory and educational issues that should be weighed before nanoparticles are added to pesticides.

There are potential upsides to using nanotechnology, say the researchers, including less environmental drift and possibly safer work environments for farm workers. But there are also possible dangers: Oregon State labs tested more than 200 nanomaterials, and very few posed any toxic concerns -– but a few did.

"If we do it right, it should be possible to design nanoparticles with safety as a primary consideration, so they can help create pesticides that work better or are actually safer," Stacey Harper, an assistant professor of nanotoxicology at Oregon State, said in a statement.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: These titanium dioxide nanoparticles, seen through a scanning electron microscope, are the type of small particles studied in a program on the safety of nanotechnology in pesticides. Credit: Oregon State University

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