Nanobots: A Solution or Distraction
At a recent international forum on clean water, angry shouts of, “You made the mess, so you clean it up!” were heard. They were made by environmentally-conscious protesters who are concerned citizens. The demands were directed at representatives of a number of large corporations invited to participate in the event.
Across the globe, water sources have become polluted from years of human activities, especially those conducted by industries involved in strip mining, energy production, food preparation, and agriculture. Currently, pollutants, such as pesticides, toxic waste, and heavy-metals—inorganic chemical hazards, such as mercury and copper—have made the water bodies in some areas harmful for humans and other inhabitants of affected ecosystems.
At the forum, a number of proposals were made to help clean up lakes with dead zones—areas of water where marine life cannot survive. One of the suggestions was the use of nanobots to remove some of the chemical pollutants from such bodies of water. These tiny devices, measuring no more than two- hundred milometers thick, can be used to filter out pollution from the lake. They can also be used to monitor the level of such pollution. A similar nanotechnology was developed to help clean up industrial oil spills in oceans and rivers caused by marine accidents.
Proponents of the technology suggest that it supports a fast and inexpensive method, compared with older systems of water cleanup. Moreover, the nanobots, made of a temperature-sensitive plastic, are also reusable. This makes their use sustainable.
The nanobots are patterned after the pioneering work of Marino Morikawa, a Japanese-Peruvian scientist who endeavored to help restore the polluted El Cascajo wetlands in Peru using nanotechnology. His desire was to cleanse the wetlands without the use of harsh chemicals. His method and inventions were wildly successful. In only four months, he was able to decontaminate the entire wetlands. Since then, many species of fish and migratory birds have returned to inhabit its waters and the area that was formerly inhospitable.
However, some environmentalists have cast doubt on the proposal. While they believe nanotechnology may ultimately be of use in some extreme cases, they also suggest that, firstly, the method introduces further foreign bodies into the water. Secondly, these small robots, once loaded with the filtered pollutants, can be ingested by marine organisms. These vulnerable creatures are already endangered by an overload of poisonous, microplastic particles in the water. The prospect of adding more plastic into the water is certainly questionable.
Moreover, the environmentalists doubt the motive of the corporations that have suggested the use of nanotechnology. They suggest the proposal is merely a distraction from the real issue. They maintain that the companies should be trying to reduce the pollution they produce, as well as their carbon footprint. Instead, these businesses are accused of only seeking a way to maintain their level of operation, which in turn will create the same level of toxic-waste, hoping the nanobots will clean up some of it.
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