Daily Archives: April 15, 2009

Nanotechnology is the next asbestos, union says

Health fear: The union movement is worried that workers in the nanotechnology sector might be facing a health time bomb

abc.net.au | Apr 14, 2009

By Ashley Hall

The union movement is worried that workers in the nanotechnology sector might be facing a health time bomb similar to asbestos.

Nanotechnology is now used in more than 800 everyday items, including car fuel lines, bed sheets, building materials, cosmetics and sunscreens.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says there are growing fears about the safety of producing and using nano-materials, yet there are few specific protections for workers.

Scientists have been thinking about how to manipulate individual atoms and molecules since the late 1950s but it has only been in the past couple of decades that they have developed equipment that is up to the task of exploring nanotechnology.

Mike Ford is the associate director of the Institute for Nanoscale Technology at the University of Technology in Sydney.

“Nano means 10 to the [power of] minus nine metres, so that’s about one ten-thousandth of the width of a human hair,” he said.

“What we’re trying to do in nanotechnology is be able to engineer and control objects at that scale, so that’s like the scale of atoms and molecules.”

Mr Ford says nanotechnology is used in all sorts of products, some of which are used on the skin.

“Nano-scale sunscreens have been around a long time. They contain zinc oxide nano particles, which are typically 20 nanometres in diameter,” he said.

“And they’re still very, very good at absorbing UV, so [they’re] protecting you from the sun’s ultraviolet light, but they’re clear.”

The fear is that nano-particles are so small, they could be easily inhaled, or pass through the skin, possibly causing diseases in a similar way to asbestos.

‘Abundance of caution’

And Mr Ford says familiar materials are reduced to the nano-scale, they can take on a fresh personality.

“Even though they might be dealing with substances that in terms of traditional chemical safety are very well known about, when you make things nanoscopic you turn them into nano-scale objects [and] they can behave in very, very different ways,” he said.

For example, in its standard form, aluminium oxide is considered safe for dentists to use in teeth.

But when it is reduced to the nano-scale, the same substance becomes explosive, so manufacturing and handling guidelines do not properly apply to the nanoscopic form.

The assistant secretary of the ACTU, Geoff Fary, says that is putting workers at risk.

“Remember when asbestos was introduced, it was considered to be a miracle product, and it wasn’t until many years later that we found the devastating effect it had,” he said.

“There should be an abundance of caution with nanotechnology to make sure that we’re not going to reap a similar awful harvest in years to come.

“We just think it’s time to adopt the precautionary principle: stop and have a really close look at what we’re doing.”

Mr Fary says nano-scale chemicals should be classified as new chemicals, and undergo all the appropriate safety checks.

The ACTU also wants the Federal Government to introduce product labelling, to ensure consumers and workers know when they are using goods produced with the help of nanotechology.

And it wants a registry kept of all the companies using nanotechnology.

Mr Fary says the ACTU is keen to see a new regulatory framework up and running before the end of the year.

But a spokeswoman for the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Kim Carr, says while the Government is very concerned for the health and safety of workers, it will not be introducing new regulations.

She says the Government understands that nanotechnology is a rapidly emerging area and says the Government will work to keep pace.

With recent police activity, anti-terror adverts and CCTV everywhere no wonder we’re all scared stiff


Big Brother state? Britain has more CCTV cameras than the rest of Europe put together

Daily Mail | April 15, 2009

By Eamonn Butler

So it has now become one of the main causes of anxiety. Among all the other worries that people face  –  the recession, crime, hospital superbugs and terrorism  –  a new fear has emerged: that of the Big Brother state.

According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, we are a pretty fearful lot. In fact, more than seven million of us are living with some sort of anxiety problem.

And the proliferation of surveillance equipment such as CCTV cameras (of which we have more than the rest of Europe put together) only makes people more worried of the very things the cameras are designed to tackle: crime and terrorism.

It is ironic that something which is supposed to put our minds at rest has exactly the opposite effect.

But there is also a darker side to the proliferation of monitoring equipment which should also be a cause of great concern to us all.

The evidence can no longer be ignored that after a decade of New Labour, Britain has become a far worse place for honest citizens to live their lives as they please, away from the eyes and ears of the state.

In the name of ‘efficiency’ and ‘national security’, our civil liberties have been systematically eroded.

We have calmly allowed our rulers to grab enormous and unprecedented power. They claim it is needed to protect us from criminals, but in fact they are using it to bully and enslave us with a litany of regulation and red tape.

Police and other state officials have turned from our servants into our masters.

We have granted these sweeping powers to our rulers on the understanding they would only be used against the most determined and brutal terrorists.

But, in fact, they have been used to browbeat ordinary, honest, tax-paying citizens  –  particularly when they oppose the Government’s point of view.

Now they can be used to check on your rubbish bins, an extension to your home, or even that you do actually live where you claim to live when applying to a local school.

If Taliban extremists ever did bring Britain under their control, you might imagine that the first thing they would abolish would be our right to free speech. But they wouldn’t need to. We’ve already done it for them.

It’s already a crime to demonstrate your views peacefully, or heckle a politician, or even wear a T-shirt making fun of one.

Meanwhile, the Freedom of Information Act, which is meant to allow us access to what is happening, is under threat of being watered down to the point of being pointless.

The 7/7 bombings showed that terrorism is a real threat; so is organised crime.

But as Dame Stella Rimington, head of MI5 from 1992 to 1996, has made clear, it is far better to deal with those risks rather than frighten people into accepting new laws that actually enslave us.

Typically, the Home Office has defended its approach as ‘proportionate’  –  which simply shows that it has no concept of how authoritarian it has become.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is behind the plans for the new ‘super database’ to record all our emails, internet searches and phone calls, just in case one of us might be a wrong ‘un.

If the police do pick us up, she wants to keep us under interrogation for up to six weeks without trial.

That’s worrying, because now the police can arrest us, not just for serious crimes, but for even the most trivial reasons. And with the hundreds of sweeping laws New Labour has brought in, or the 3,609 new offences that it has created since 1997, there’s quite a choice.

The police  –  plus 1,407 other official bodies  –  can now impose on-the-spot fines for things as trivial as dropping an apple core. Refuse to pay up and you’ll be arrested and tried.

Now, even photographing a policeman could land you with a ten-year jail sentence.

Under Section 76 of the 2008 Counter-Terrorism Act, any picture ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’ is strictly banned.

A new series of ominous TV adverts certainly does nothing to allay people’s fears, but rather increases them. The sound of a normal street scene is described as ‘the sound of a bomb not going off’ because someone had reported some suspicious activity.

While being alert to threat is commendable, there is the danger of making people afraid of just about anything.

And if you do fall foul of these sweeping new powers, once arrested, your DNA will be swabbed and added to the largest DNA database in the world, with 4.8 million samples.

Youth is no defence. Of the 722,464 swabs taken in 2006-7, some 350,000 were taken from children under 15.

It took a six-month legal battle to get the DNA of one 13-year-old boy, falsely accused of writing graffiti, removed from the database.

In fact, the police are incentivised to make criminals of us, rather than prevent crime.

In London last year, three officers wasted half the night by holding a 19-year-old student for five hours before cautioning him for holding open the door of a lift in an Underground station.

But then police chiefs can get up to £15,000 in annual performance bonuses depending on how many people they spot-fine, caution or charge.

So be careful near the end of the month when they are trying to fill their monthly quotas.

The whole system encourages the police to go after the easy targets  –  the peaceful, unthreatening, decent majority  –  rather than the criminals and terrorists they should focus on.

The TV licensing advertisements sum up this nightmare as eloquently as anything.

We’re told in no uncertain terms: ‘Your town, your street, your home. It’s all in our database. It’s impossible to hide.’

Well, I agree that people should pay their taxes. But these bullyboy tactics wouldn’t look out of place in Stalin’s Russia.

It is impossible to hide. Britain has more CCTV cameras than any other country. The number of speed cameras alone has trebled in the past six years.

Some 800 organisations can have our phones tapped, including, of course, all those local councils who suspect you might be leaving your wheeliebins out too early.

There is something dark in New Labour’s psychology that makes it regard such oppression as ‘proportionate’. Its need to keep control of a perpetually wayward party mutated into a desire to control a bloodyminded public.

And New Labour really believed it knew what was best for us. If our traditional rights and institutions  –  trial by jury, habeas corpus, Parliament and the judiciary  –  got in the way, they could quite legitimately be swept aside.

This week, more than 100 climate change protesters were arrested before they protested about anything, but just because of what they might do.

So now we are defenceless against even more oppression. And that’s not just my view.

In a speech at Exeter University recently, David Blunkett  –  the former Home Secretary  –  warned that a planned government ‘super-database’, storing people’s emails, internet traffic and other personal data, would be a threat to individual rights.

And Sir David Ormand  –  Whitehall’s former security and intelligence co-ordinator  –  has warned that the Government’s plans to gather ever-increasing amounts of data on citizens ‘will involve breaking everyday moral rules’.

The International Commission of Jurists has suggested that countries like Britain were doing the terrorists’ jobs for them, enacting laws that undermine the very values and freedoms they claim to be protecting. Even at the highest levels, there is clearly unease at the extent of ‘Big Brother Britain’.

Let’s hope these alarms are loud enough to wake us up to the full horror of what we’ve created. No wonder we’re all so worried.

Recession fueling right-wing extremism, U.S. says

Reuters | Apr 14, 2009

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) – Right-wing extremists in the United States are gaining new recruits by exploiting fears about the economy and the election of the first black U.S. president, the Department of Homeland Security warned in a report to law enforcement officials.

The April 7 report, which Reuters and other news media obtained on Tuesday, said such fears were driving a resurgence in “recruitment and radicalization activity” by white supremacist groups, antigovernment extremists and militia movements. It did not identify any by name.

DHS had no specific information about pending violence and said threats had so far been “largely rhetorical.”

But it warned that home foreclosures, unemployment and other consequences of the economic recession “could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists.”

“To the extent that these factors persist, right-wing extremism is likely to grow in strength,” DHS said.

The report warned that military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat skills could be recruitment targets, especially those having trouble finding jobs or fitting back into civilian society.

The department “is concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities,” the report said.

DHS spokeswoman Sara Kuban said on Tuesday the report was one of an ongoing series of threat assessments aimed at “a greater understanding of violent radicalization in the U.S.”

A similar assessment of left-wing radicals completed in January was distributed to federal, state and local police agencies at that time.

“These assessments are done all the time, this is nothing unusual,” Kuban said.

The Department of Homeland Security was formed in response to the September 11 attacks of 2001 and has focused largely on threats from Islamist extremists.

The report said domestic right-wing terrorist groups grew during the economic recession of the early 1990s but subsided as the economy improved.

Government scrutiny disrupted violent plots following the April 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City by Army veteran Timothy McVeigh which killed 168 people.


“Despite similarities to the climate of the 1990s, the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years,” the report said.

The Internet has made it easier to locate specific targets, communicate with like-minded people and find information on bombs and weapons, it said.

Extremist groups are preying on fears that President Barack Obama, the first African American U.S. president, would restrict gun ownership, boost immigration and expand social programs for minorities, the report said.

It said such groups were also exploiting anti-Semitic sentiment with accusations that “a cabal of Jewish financial elites” had conspired to collapse the economy.

“This trend is likely to accelerate if the economy is perceived to worsen,” the report said.