Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Come the Nano Idiots

Pat Cleary over at the National Association of Manufacturer's blog does his usual dumb blonde (apologies to blondes) "see no evil" routine with a review of last weekend's Washington Post article on research into the hazards of nanotechnologies.

Cleary accuses anyone who would question the safety of any new technology of being a Luddite. (The Luddites, for anyone who doesn't know, were a social movement of English workers in the early 1800s who protested – often by destroying textile machines – against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution that they felt threatened their jobs.)

Referring to the Post's article, "Nano Raises Worker Safety Questions," Cleary asks 'With whom does nano raise questions?' Certainly not with anyone we've spoken to."

Pat, that says more about you than it does about the rest of the world. Questions are being asked all over about nanotechnologies -- and the fact that even some nanotechnology companies are participating in the research with NIOSH should be seen by NAM as a good thing for American industry -- at least that part of American industry that isn't knee-jerk anti-regulation. A little similar forward thinking several decades ago would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives (and dozens of bankrupted companies) that have been lost to asbestos and other occupational hazards whose danger industry either ignored or deliberately hid.

Cleary tries to argue that nanotechnologies are already regulated -- in fact everything is already regulated, thanks to OSHA's General Duty Clause, which requires employers to provide a safe workplace. Unfortunately, what Cleary doesn't acknowledge, but seems to be clear to everyone else involved in workplace safety issues, is that the General Duty Clause is generally only used after an accident occurs -- aftr the bodies are counted -- and only relatively rarely even then. A number of popcorn flavoring workers would still have functioning lungs if the General Duty Clause worked as Pat Cleary would have us believe it does.

Cleary pleads with those of us who want to protect workers before we have to start counting the bodies to "not choke this technology in its crib. Innovation is at the root of manufacturing. Over-regulation is its enemy."

Yeah, well so is killing people when it can be prevented through a bit of research and safe practices.

And just for good measure, Larry Halpern, one of DC's leading anti-worker safety attorneys with Keller and Heckman, chimes in with his contribution to the discussion of the terrible regulatory burden on American industry, what with OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, Personal Protective Equipment standards, Respiratory Protection Standard, anad horror of horrors, OSHA's dreaded Laboratory Standard. And don't forget EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act. Imagine forcing industry to train their workers about the chemicals they're exposed to and providing protective equipment. How will America survive?

I could waste my time debating all of these issues here, but I've wasted enough already.

This is just to remind you of my cautions at the end of my piece reviewing the Washington Post nanotechnology article. Despite signs of cooperation breaking out among nanotechnology researchers and manufacturers, the administatration is already talking voluntary, instead of mandatory standards, and the manufacturers of doubt -- aided and abetted by NAM and its ilk -- are already at work. Be afraid. Be very afraid.