Magazine article The Futurist

Nanopollution: The Invisible Fog of Future Wars; Pollution from Nano-Scale Particles Expands Traditional Battlefields and Extends Warfare's Impacts to Innocent Victims, Including Future Generations. Two Nanopathology Experts Examine What May Become a Dangerous New Way to Wage War

Magazine article The Futurist

Nanopollution: The Invisible Fog of Future Wars; Pollution from Nano-Scale Particles Expands Traditional Battlefields and Extends Warfare's Impacts to Innocent Victims, Including Future Generations. Two Nanopathology Experts Examine What May Become a Dangerous New Way to Wage War

Article excerpt

The wars that ended the twentieth century and launched the twenty-first brought a mysterious, unexpected side effect. Why would otherwise healthy, uninjured soldiers come home deathly ill? Why would soldiers who never set foot in a war theater but were employed in firing grounds, contract the same illnesses as the soldiers who actually went to war? Why are civilians likewise affected who live in or near war theaters?

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Other postwar pathologies, such as soldiers' malformed offspring and the illnesses of peacekeepers deployed to former battlefields, also raise crucial questions.

Other than coming up with a name for the collection of symptoms experienced by veterans of the first two Gulf Wars and the war in the Balkans, doctors have little understanding of Gulf War syndrome's causes.

One early suspect was depleted uranium contained in some weapons and scattered in great quantity all over the war theaters. Depleted uranium (DU) comes from the leftovers of the enrichment of uranium, and in the 1970s the armament industry began using it. But workers developing DU-based weapons did not experience the same symptoms as those exposed to them in the field.

Other hypotheses included the organophosphates sprayed against possible biological attacks the soldiers were exposed to, the inhalation of the fumes and soot coming from oil well fires, the multiple vaccinations squeezed into what was most probably too short a time, and possible vaccine contaminations.

Nanopathology: Impacts of War And Pollution

The solution to these medical mysteries may be found in a new word: nanopathology, the study of diseases caused by micrometric and nanometric particles. Dust at the nanoscale (smaller than one-thousandth of a millimeter) can elude physiological barriers and easily enter the bloodstream, where it is very likely to reach all internal organs and tissues. It has already been proven that inhaled 100nm particles can negotiate the lung barrier within 60 seconds, then show up in the liver and other internal organs within an hour.

The blast of DU and of other high-technology weapons induces a very high temperature--more than 3,000[degrees]C for DU and about 5,000[degrees]C for tungsten--thus reducing to an aerosol all the matter involved in the blast: bomb, tank, buildings, etc. In a matter of seconds and far away from the blast, those same vaporized substances recondense into tiny, hollow, spherical particles. In this way, new alloys are created that are not found in any metallurgical handbooks. Modern war has thus given birth to a novel kind of pollution that never existed before and whose effects on human and animal health are unknown.

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It is hard to deny that nanopollution from war actually represents an additional, significant risk for both soldiers and the population affected by the war. The newly created nanoparticles can rightfully be defined as invisible bullets, since no sensors or instruments have yet been used to detect them in the bombed territories.

Environmental pollution has long been known to be responsible for some lung and cardiovascular diseases, and, because of that, specific laws were enforced to limit the amount of particulate matter in breathable air. But the dust created by high-technology bombs can be much finer than the proposed maximums.

From what we have observed in our laboratory, nano-scale particles can interact with proteins, bacteria, and viruses to potentially cause not-yet-studied phenomena and develop new diseases with unusual symptoms. We have already photographed nanoparticles in contact with DNA; they have the ability to negotiate the cell membrane, leaving it intact, and reach as deep as the nucleus. A "mild" interaction between them and the DNA can create DNA breaks that would cause the cell to reproduce with an irreversibly modified genetic pattern. …

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