Sadler & Co. is dedicated to helping small and medium-sized nanotechnology businesses. Manufacturers and distributors can get the necessary insurance coverage and risk management resources efficiently and cost effectively.
There will be four stages of nanotechnology development and each stage will represent unique challenges for the insurance industry to grasp and understand. For relevancy sake, I will address the stage we are currently in, stage one, and the immediate hazards facing the insurance industry.
This stage is characterized by the development of small things that are relatively easy to create followed by finding a purpose for these items. Some examples currently in the marketplace are carbon nanotubes that are being used in tennis rackets and golf shafts to make them stronger and lighter. Another example is super-hydrophobic coatings such as photocatalytic titanium dioxide nanoparticles to make things slicker and more aerodynamic.
The primary issue for the insurance industry is how do they evaluate each new nanostructure that is being created and understand the long term implications to human health and the environment? We currently know that even existing particles and structures change in toxicity and become more bioactive at the nanoscale. When particles and structures reach a certain small size they can now cross skin and lung barriers and travel unimpeded throughout the body. We currently know that these nanoparticles are capable of crossing blood brain barriers, placenta and even enter into the nuclei of cells. We also know that it is not enough to evaluate nanoparticles based on their different compounds because size and shape at the nanoscale can affect properties and toxicology profile of the nanoparticles. For example, the toxicology of a titaniumdioxide crystal is different at 50 nanometers versus 500 nm. Also, shapes of the crystals such as needles versus squares have an impact on the behavior of the crystal in the human body. How does the insurance industry understand the complexity of each and every nanomaterial when variations of size and shape of the same nanomaterial means it could have far different implications in the human body and environment?
The immediate issue facing the insurance industry is the workplace environment and the potential for disasters similar to asbestos. The technology for nano-products is so new that oversight and regulation has not caught up. There are currently a large number of products being produced with nanomaterials. Are current laws and health and safety enforcement up to the task of evaluating all of the new products in the workplace and in the environment? Are all insurance carriers even aware that their insured’s are developing nano products? What will they do when they find out? Are there even agreed protocols for safe handling of nano-materials?
If the answer is no, then it may be wise to slow the development of nano-products so safety protocols can catch up before we endanger more workers and the environment. If we cannot create a safe environment at stage one, we are definitely in trouble in stage two, three and four.
The number one difficulty for businesses looking for nanotechnology product liability insurance is finding insurance companies with underwriters and risk management personnel who have the expertise and knowledge to evaluate nanotechnology products efficiently and fairly. Since nanotechnology is still considered to be in the infancy stages of development, it will take a major commitment by an insurance company to educate their underwriters and find risk management services that can perform on-site loss control services and adequately advise businesses.
The term nanotechnology can mean two very different things. First, there is the study of small things or making existing things smaller. By reducing information to computer code, it is possible to store all the information ever written in all the books ever created by man on a space the size of the smallest visible piece of dust or one two-hundredth of an inch wide. Most of what is considered nanotechnology today is materials science. Much of the research is using modern techniques to make existing things tiny and then finding practical uses for them. For example, a carbon nanotube has been found to be 100 times stronger than steel, but six times lighter. Ever wonder how tennis rackets evolved to be so light yet more powerful and durable? It’s because of carbon nanotubes.
The second meaning of nanotechnology is radically different. Sometimes this type of nanotechnology is referred to as molecular manufacturing. This type of nanotechnology is about molecule-sized machines programmed for specific purposes. This atomic manipulation arranges atoms in ways that allow for the creation of new elements that do not exist in nature. These have the potential to be used to manufacture anything imaginable. We are beginning to see this type of nanotechnology used in the genetic engineering of wheat and corn to be drought and disease resistant. However, this type of nanotechnology has the potential to create thousands of new materials with properties on such a small scale that, they move about the body and environment in unthinkable ways. By being able to program things at such a small scale, some scientists see a day where fresh foods such as meats, grains, and vegetables could be produced in your home.
Artificial red blood cells called respirocytes could deliver oxygen hundreds of times more efficiently than real blood cells. Respirocytes are considered the simplest and likely one of the first nanomachines available in nanomedicine. If this technology becomes available, blood transfusions may become a thing of the past. Treatment of respiratory and cardiovascular disorders would improve a hundred fold.