Blog: Leonie BarrieFears over nanotechnology's new frontiers

Leonie Barrie | 12 February 2008

The concept of socks, ties, sheets, duvet covers and pillow cases which never need to be washed is a compelling one, and not just for those who hate washing or resent spending money on dry cleaning.

According to scientists in Australia and Hong Kong who have developed a self-cleaning coating, the specially-treated garments could be ‘washed’ simply by hanging them on the clothes line, with sunlight breaking down stains and odours. Which would also help reduce the consumption of chemicals, such as detergents and dry-cleaning solvents, water, and energy.

But am I alone in thinking that there still needs to be more research on the possible long-term effects of nano-particles on the human body and their impact on the environment?

There’s a debate raging in the cosmetic industry over the use of nanotechnology and the – as yet unknown – effect the minute particles may have if they enter cells in the human body or leach into the bloodstream. And with so many of the applications for nano-particles in clothing aimed at next-to-skin garments like socks and underwear, I’m sure the same concerns must apply to the clothing industry.

In fact, so worried is the European Commission that it has adopted a voluntary code of conduct in the field of nanotechnology research – its ‘Code of Conduct for Responsible Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Research – in an attempt to establish some guidelines in this fast-growing but little-understood area.

And last month the Soil Association said cosmetics, food and clothing made with nanoparticles will be banned from carrying the group's organic certification mark.

Scientists develop self-cleaning wool and silk fabrics


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