ETC Group announces International Graphic Design Competition


Biotechnology, nuclear power, toxic chemicals, electromagnetic radiation -- each of these technological hazards has a universally recognized warning symbol associated with it. So why not nanotechnology -- the world's most powerful (and potentially dangerous) technology?


Entries will be judged by a panel of eminent judges convened by the ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion Technology and Concentration, These judges include Dr. Vyvyan Howard (Editor of the Journal of Nanotoxicity), Dr. Gregor Wolbring (Affilliated scholar Center for Nanotechnology and Society at Arizona State University, USA), Chee Yoke Ling (Third World Network), Claire Pentecost (Associate Professor and Chair of the Photography Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Rory O'Neill (Editor of Hazards magazine) and Dr. Alexis Vlandas (Nanotechnology Spokesperson for International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility). Entries will also be judged by participants at the World Social Forum, Nairobi, Kenya, 20-25 January 2007.

The winning entry will be submitted to international standard-setting bodies responsible for hazard characterisation, to international governmental organisations and to national governments as a proposed symbol for nanotechnology hazards.


A gallery of entries submitted are available here:

Why Do We Need a Nano-Hazard Symbol?

Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at the tiny level of atoms and molecules, has created a new class of materials with unusual properties and new toxicities.

It used to be that nanotechnology was the stuff of science fiction. Today, however, there are over one thousand nanotechnology companies worldwide. Nanoparticles, nanotubes and other engineered nanomaterials are already in use in hundreds of everyday consumer products, raising significant health, safety and environmental concerns. Nanoparticles are able to move around the body and the environment more readily than larger particles of pollution. Because of their extremely small size and large surface area nanoparticles may be more reactive and more toxic than larger particles of the same substance. They have been compared to asbestos by leading insurance companies who worry their health impact could lead to massive claims. At least one US-based insurance company has canceled coverage of small companies involved with nanotechnology. Unlike more familiar forms of pollution arising from new technologies, nano-hazards (potentially endangering consumers, workers and the environment) have yet to be fully characterized, regulated or even subject to safety testing. The US Food and Drug Administration will have its first public meeting about regulating nanomaterials on October 10, 2006. Most governments worldwide have yet to even begin thinking about nano-regulation. Nonetheless, nanoparticles invisible to the naked eye are already in foods, cosmetics, pesticides and clothing without even being labelled. Every day laboratory and factory workers could be inhaling and ingesting nanoparticles while the rest of us may be unwittingly putting them on our skin, in our body or in the environment.

It's not just a safety question. Nanotechnology also raises new societal hazards: The granting of patents on nano-scale materials and processes, and even elements of the periodic table, allows for increased corporate power and monopoly over the smallest parts of nature. Some designer nanomaterials may come to replace natural products such as cotton, rubber and metals -- displacing the livelihoods of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.  In the near future the merger of nanotechnology with biotechnology (in nano-biotechnology applications such as synthetic biology) will lead to new designer organisms, modified at the molecular level, posing new biosafety threats. Nano-enabled technologies also aim to 'enhance' human beings and 'fix' the disabled, a goal that raises troubling ethical issues and the specter of a new divide between the technologically “improved” and “unimproved.”

ETC Group has called for a moratorium on nanoparticle production and release to allow for a full societal debate and until such time as precautionary regulations are in place to protect workers, consumers and the environment. Standard setting bodies around the world are now scrambling to agree on nomenclature that can describe nanoparticles and nanomaterials. A common, internationally-recognized symbol warning of the presence of engineered nanomaterials is equally overdue.

For a short and simple introduction to Nanotechnology see "A Tiny Primer on Nano-scale Technologies," available online:  node/55

Details Of The Competition:

We are asking concerned people everywhere (including artists, designers, scientists, students, regulators and members of the public) to submit possible designs for an international Nano-Hazard warning symbol that could be used to identify the presence of nanomaterials. This symbol could, for example, be placed on products containing nanomaterials, in laboratories or factories where workers handle nanoparticles, or on containers transporting nanomaterials. The symbol should be simple,  easy to recognize and communicate clearly the new, potential hazards that result when matter is manipulated at the nanoscale (1 billionth of a metre -- the size of atoms and molecules).

We encourage participants to be as creative as possible in inventing a new nano-hazard symbol. Images can be designed on computer or by hand, scanned, photographed or otherwise rendered in 2 dimensions -- either using colour or in black and white. Entries will be judged on their conceptual as well as artistic merit. Descriptions and explanations accompanying the entries will be very welcome.

For examples of existing hazard warning symbols for comparison see

All submitted entries will be treated as non-copyright and in the public domain unless the submitter wishes to place them under a creative commons license allowing free non-commercial use (see details here Entries submitted with copyright conditions (other than creative commons) will not be considered. Entries sent by post will not be returned.

Judging will be in two parts:

Judging Panel: A selection of entries will first be made by a panel of eminent judges chosen by the ETC Group. This panel includes:
  Dr. Vyvyan Howard, Founding editor of the Journal of Nanotoxicology.
  Dr. Gregor Wolbring, Affilliated scholar Center for Nanotechnology and Society at Arizona State University, USA.
  Chee Yoke Ling, Legal Advisor, Third World Network.
  Claire Pentecost, Artist, Writer, Associate Professor and Chair of the Photography Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  Rory O Neill, Editor of Hazards (trade union workplace safety magazine).
  Dr. Alexis Vlandas, Nanotechnology spokesperson for International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility.

Public Judging: The selected entries will then be displayed at the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya (20- 25 January 2007) for civil society attendees to judge. We also encourage everyone to view the gallery of submitted artwork online and submit comments there.

More Information:

For a short introduction to nanotechnology see:  "A Tiny Primer on Nano-scale Technologies" available online:  node/55

For an introduction to the toxicity of nanoscale materials see the following resources:

"Size Matters" (2003), an ETC Occasional Paper which includes an appendix by Dr Vyvyan Howard, Founding Editor of the Journal of Nanotoxicology: files/publication/165/01/occ.paper_nanosafety.pdf

ETC Group's 2004 Communiqué, 'Nano's Troubled Waters'   files/publication/116/01/gt_troubledwater_april1.pdf

A May 2006 report on nanotechnology in sunscreens and cosmetics by Friends of the Earth: (this link is no longer active)

A recent scientific evaluation of nanoscale hazards by the European Commission's highest level scientific committee on toxicity, The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks: 04_scenihr/scenihr_cons_01_en.htm

A comprehensive overview (2004) of nanoparticle toxicity, "Small Matter, Many Unknowns" by Swiss Re, the world's second largest re-insurance company:$FILE/Publ04_Nanotech_en.pdf (this link is no longer active)

Take Action:

The US Food and Drug Administration held its first-ever public hearing to discuss regulatory issues related to nanotechnology on October 10, 2006. Despite the fact that the US government spends approximately $1 billion per year on nanotech R&D and hundreds of consumer products are already on the market, the US government spends a paltry $11 million per year on nanotechnology related risk research (1.1% of the total budget). Go here for details: (this link is no longer active)

In May 2006 ETC Group joined the International Center for Technology Assessment, Friends of the Earth and other consumer health and environmental groups in a legal petition challenging FDA's failure to regulate health and environmental threats from nanomaterials currently used in consumer products.  The full petition and an executive summary are available here:

You can send electronic comments to the FDA asking them to properly control, regulate and label nanomaterials. An online form is available to help you do this via The Center for Food Safety.  Go to:
(this link is no longer active)