US adults see nanotech as less risky than guns

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US adults see nanotech as less risky than guns

Damning with faint praise.

US consumers are willing to accept the potential health and safety risks from some nanotechnology products, but only if the benefits from their use are high enough.

A new survey of public perceptions of nano-containing products found that US shoppers rate nanotechnology as less risky than everyday technologies including herbicides, chemical disinfectants, handguns and food preservatives.

The study, conducted by researchers at Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology, University College London and the London Business School, will appear in the December issue of Nature Nanotechnology. 

"By some estimates, products containing nanotechnology already account for more than $30bn in annual global sales, but there is concern that the public's fixation with nanotechnology's risks, either real or imagined, will diminish consumers' appetite for products," said lead researcher Steven Currall.

"Measuring public sentiment toward nanotechnology lets us check the pulse of the industry right now, and chart the growth or erosion of public acceptance in the future."

Currall suggested that it is clear from the survey that people are thinking about more than just risk.

"The average consumer is pretty shrewd when it comes to balancing risks against benefits, and we found that the greater the potential benefits, the more risks people are willing to tolerate," he said.

Study co-author Neal Lane, who helped craft the US National Nanotechnology Initiative during his tenure as director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, said that the public is likely to become more aware of nanotechnology's risks as environmental health and safety research is completed.

"We propose that academic bodies like the UK's Royal Society and the US National Academies set up inter-agency clearing houses to coordinate public education and synthesise the latest scientific findings," he said.
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