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Posted: December 11, 2007
Insurance industry's nanotechnology conference and report examines new risks
(Nanowerk News) Lloyd's held its first ever seminar on nanotechnology on Monday, Dec. 10. The conference was organized in cooperation with the Lighthill Risk Network, (http://www.lighthillrisknetwork.org), a non-profit organization sponsored by Lloyd's, Guy Carpenter, Benfield and Catlin. In accordance with its goals the seminar brought scientists together with representatives from the insurance industry, government and third party organizations.
Entitled "the 'Risks and Opportunities of Nanotechnology," the seminar examined issues relating to the branch of science and technology that is dependent upon the manipulation of objects at a molecular or atomic level. The use of such technology raises human health and environmental concerns as well as potential litigation arising from commercial practices or products.
Featured speakers included:
Professor Geoffrey Hunt (Hons) MLitt PhD, Professor of Ethics and Global Policies at the University of Surrey where he researches and teaches ethical and social implications of nanotechnology.
Dr. Rob Aitken, Director of Strategic Consulting at the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) and the Director of the SAFENANO initiative, designed to help industrial and academic communities to quantify and control the risks to their workforce.
Professor Ian Ford, a Theoretical Physicist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and London Centre for Nanotechnology at University College London.
Dr. Elizabeth Driver, a Partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and a medical doctor.
Dr .Lincoln Tsang, a Partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and a registered pharmacist with post-graduate qualifications in toxicology and biochemistry.
It is a subject that needs to be explored as nanotechnology has exploded over the last three years. As an example, a memory card in a portable telephone, which is about the size of a dime, holds between 256 megabytes (256,000 kilobytes) and over 1000 megabytes, or 1 gigabyte. An I-pod nano, which is smaller than three credit cards, has a memory capacity of 8 gigabytes, or 8 million kilobytes. It can store up to 8,000 songs, 7,000 photographs and a certain number of videos – all driven by nanotechnology.
"However," as Lloyd's notes, "while nanotechnology has the potential to be as commonly used as plastic, its risk assessment has barely begun." Following the seminar Lloyd's issued a new report (available on its web site at: www.lloyds.com), which "aims to inform the insurance market and wider industry about the risks and opportunities that exist in this developing area."
The insurance industry needs to begin studying nanotechnology for a number of reasons. Lloyd's cited the following:
huge potential – it is set to be a significant market with 15 percent of all products containing nanotechnology by 2014;
unknown side effects – the jury is still out on whether nanoparticles could prove toxic to humans or be harmful to the environment;
safer world – nanotechnology could reduce risks with new materials that are stronger and more adaptive, for example cars could be made to perform better when crashed; and
lack of regulation – there is no specific regulation aimed at nanotechnology and the area is currently covered under existing mechanisms.
To coincide with the launch of the report, the Lighthouse Risk Network also held a conference at Lloyd's to provide underwriters with an opportunity to increase their knowledge of nanotechnologies. There will certainly be more such conferences in the future.