Nano Silver Strife In The Netbook World

A blogstorm of concern is simmering in the booming netbook market, and it’s not about keyboard size or battery life. It’s about the potential health hazards of purportedly antimicrobial silver nano technology being sprayed on the keyboards of some of these uber portable laptops. Consumers are flocking to sites like Amazon and tech blogs with questions no one can seem to answer definitively: Is nano silver dangerous? Can it get in my body? Can it cause cancer?

No secret that computer keyboards (not to mention cell phones and PDAs) are bacterial bastions of germy growth. You may have come across the British study that last year declared (horrifyingly) our computers dirtier than our toilet bowls? Not the way to foster a nice intra-office rapport. Which is why some appliance and tech companies – Samsung being one of the more prominent at this point – have started turning to very, very, very tiny particles of silver. Silver’s long been used for antimicrobial purposes, but now scientists are blasting it down to nanometer-sized particles (that’s billionths of a meter – not exactly a state we could call “naturally occurring”) and spraying it on everything from clothes washers to refrigerators to cutlery to children’s toys to the world’s smallest netbook keyboards.

According to Samsung, the Samsung Silver Nano Health System application on their new 10 inch netbook, the NC10, kills 99% of all the bacteria typists can manage to smear on there. “Sense the safety of silver: it’s here, it’s clear, and it’s silver,” rejoices the company’s nano silver website. “Keep a pure silver happiness,” “breathe a fresh silver rejoicing,” “your body and your child want a purified life.” Someone over in Samsung’s PR department had a field day writing copy.

All this germ killing may sound swell to Americans – Purell nation of antibacterial product junkies that we’ve become – but some scientists say silver nano tech is unproven and potentially dangerous to both the environment and to human health.

A Japanese study recently drew a link between nanoparticles and mesothelioma, the same fatal lung disease that follows asbestos exposure. And in 2008, the non-profit International Center for Technology Assessment petitioned the EPA, demanding that the governmental agency do a better job researching and regulating silver nanotechnology. The petition was supported by the Center for Food Safety, Greenpeace, Center for Environmental Health, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Food and Water Watch, and Consumers Union, among others.

It's still important to look for a machine that's Energy Star certified, and to go with a company you trust on the sustainability front. But do consider the nano factor, if you're in the market for a netbook.

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