Dark Clouds, Nanosilver Linings


Max, a TV reporter: Max here. TV Station Manager: Hey, Max. I have a field assignment for you–six interviews on the vote today. Max: The one about new manufacturing jobs? Station Manager: Yes. A company called NanoPackaging Solutions is interested in opening factories and research labs in East Falls. The company makes high-tech food packaging featuring nanosilver which kills germs and increases the shelf-life of the food it surrounds. Max: What is nanosilver? Station Manager: Basically, nanosilver is tiny particles of silver. They are so tiny that they are invisible. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Max: So… Why is there any controversy about tiny silver? Station Manager: Well the germ killing benefit of nanosilver is clear, but not much is understood about its risks. Most residents are anxious about the economy with the high unemployment we have had since the steel mill left. They want local job opportunities, but some are concerned about the ways workers, consumers, or the environment could be harmed. Max: All right, I understand. So, what’s happening today? Station Manager: There’s a vote because city law requires one on all matters of property tax relief. Another city has offered the company a set of abatements and the mayor knows that East Falls needs to match the offer. The company will locate in the city offering the best tax package and East Falls can’t compete without a YES vote today. Max: What did the polls show? Will the vote be close at all? Station Manager: Well, there are certainly strong opinions and feelings being expressed on both sides. No matter what is decided it’ll be controversial, and a great story. Max: Got it! I’m on it. Max: Mayor Thompson, hello! What are your general thoughts about this new ballot initiative? Mayor of East Falls: Hmm. Yes, right now the residents of East Falls are hurting They’re hardworking people out of work through no fault of their own, and this is their community. They want to prosper, raise their families here, so our community needs to rally around them and welcome NanoPackaging Solutions to East Falls. These jobs are going to benefit not just their workers, but the entire local economy. We’ve all seen what a difference the loss of the steel industry has made in this town, and now we have a chance to reverse those effects with a forward-thinking company using the latest technologies. This really gives us some hope for a bright future in East Falls! Max: So, some have expressed concerns about the societal impacts of this new technology. Mayor: Yes. Max: What do you say to them? Mayor: First of all I want to emphasize that we all want views to be expressed in an atmosphere of mutual respect. There’s many points of view in our community, and all of them should be heard. But one thing I’d like our residents to hear and understand is that if this factory doesn’t come to East Falls, it will go elsewhere. All of the direct benefits that it could bring to us will be enjoyed elsewhere. But the consumers here in East Falls will be just as exposed to this new way of packaging food as anywhere else. Our global climate, the waterways we share–they’ll be impacted just the same as if the factory were located elsewhere. Max: And what about the risks faced by workers, specifically those directly involved in the manufacturing process? Mayor: Yes, yes, as the mayor I am very deeply concerned about the risk, and I confront it with action! I’ve already insisted on the strongest protections for the health and safety of workers and I can assure you that NanoPackaging Solutions is committed to exceeding occupational health and safety standards for its workers. The risk to East Falls that I’m more concerned about is the continued high unemployment and the suffering it causes. Max: And what about those who question the cost of tax abatements and the fact that we can’t guarantee the company will stick around in the long term? Mayor: I understand these concerns. I truly, truly do. And many around here miss the steadiness and security of the old steel jobs. I feel that way as well, but we’re in the 21st century, and if we don’t adapt to the new realities of how business is done, East Falls is going to be left behind. I don’t want to see that happen. But East Falls can have a bright future–we must answer when opportunity knocks, and welcoming this opportunity will lead to a robust local economy. It’s going to move us forward and offset those initial investments with those abatements, yeah. Max: Well, Mayor Thompson, thank you very much for speaking with us. Mayor: Thanks for coming by! Max: Okay, Mr. Hansen, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to speak with us. You’re representing NanoPackaging Solutions. Why do you think your company is a good fit with East Falls? Company representative: Well, NanoPackaging Solutions and East Falls have a lot to offer each other. The people of East Falls are its greatest asset. The legacy of the steel industry means that there are skilled manufacturing professionals ready from day one. The local universities here will continually offer its graduate talent pool for our research. and development division NanoPackaging Solutions can offer the region’s most competitive wages and benefits as well. People of East Falls will know prosperity again. Max: So you’re making an economic argument here. What would you say to those who are voicing concerns about the potential risks to human health and the environment? Company representative: Important question. NanoPackaging Solutions is committed to exceeding federal standards to mitigate occupational and environmental hazards. When NanoPackaging Solutions sites operation in a community we become part of that community. We go above and beyond to care for our own. Max: Okay, thank you very much for your time. Company Representative: Thank you. Max: All right, so I’m from WREF TV, and thanks for being willing to talk with us today. Unemployed worker: Yeah, sure, no problem. Max: So could you please state your name for viewers, and what are your initial thoughts about this issue? Unemployed Worker: I’m Jay Jones. I’m here because I want to see this town get back to work. You know, losing that mill, you know, hurt a lot of good, hard-working families, and yeah, it’s left a lot of us really struggling, including my family. You know, NanoPackaging Solutions is offering East Falls and people like me an opportunity to move forward. We can’t afford not to take that opportunity. Max: So, some have expressed concerns about the health and safety workers at this new factory, NanoPackaging Solutions, because of these new, high-tech materials: that they just haven’t been around very long, and they haven’t been well tested, and, specifically, they’re unregulated. What do you say to those people? Unemployed Worker: Well, it’s easy, you know, if you have a good job, and a good paycheck, and plenty of money to worry about other risks, but, you know, for those of us who don’t have jobs, you know, we can’t afford it. We can’t afford to think that way. I mean, I worked at the steel mill for a lot of years, so I know that you always have risks when you’re making, you know, stuff, when you’re having manufacturing. You know, we’re willing to accept those risks. You know, a slim chance of harm for a hundred percent chance of a paycheck. That’s life. You know, East Falls could have life with NanoPackaging Solutions or it could just hollow out and die like so many other cities. I mean, you know, here now we are in the mall. This is what I got left if I don’t have a job with NanoPackaging Solutions. So, we’re fighting for the life of the city and my family. Max: Alright, well thanks for sharing that with us. Unemployed Worker: Thanks a lot. Max: Professor Gautham, thank you for being willing to talk with us today. Scientist: Certainly. Max: So, professor, you’re a cell biologist. Would you be willing to share some of your expertise with us around the risks of nanosilver–is this much ado about nothing, or do we have cause to be concerned? Scientist: Well, silver has known biological effects. It’s been known to kill microorganisms, even these disease-causing germs, so which is why it’s being used in food packaging in the first place. Max: So for those viewers who are concerned about nanosilver in their food. Let’s say for example there’s nanosilver in some of their food coatings, like wax on an apple, and when they eat that apple, are they going to suffer some kind of health damages or effects? Scientist: Studies have been done, and many more are underway, and will be ongoing for a while, and it takes a long time to validate these studies and reach scientific consensus. Much of the evidence gathered so far has been from non-human species and it’s important to be aware that results from animals studies are frequently don’t translate to humans. One human condition, called argyria, can develop in people who consume significant amounts of silver over time. The blue or grey discoloration may look alarming, but it isn’t dangerous to health and occurs only very rarely. Max: So what about nanosilver that’s in the packaging itself? When we throw away that packaging, maybe it goes to landfill. I know people are worried about nanosilver getting into their water sources–is this something we need to be concerned about? Scientist: These are excellent questions. It’s likely that most of the nanosilver will still be there when the consumer disposes of the packaging and of course it continues to kill bacteria If it comes in contact with them. Some studies have considered this–in context of wastewater treatment, landfilling, burning of solid waste–and these studies are quite helpful in terms of decision making, but they don’t amount to a crystal ball in terms of predicting the future. It’s impossible to consider in advance all of the possible disposal scenarios and all of the different bacteria that could be involved when there are millions of possible species. Max: Hmm. Fascinating! How about you personally–are you for the location of East Falls for NanoPackaging Solutions? Scientist: I live in this community, and I want to see my friends and neighbors enjoy the benefits of good jobs. I think that they would they should be proud of making a product that cuts down on food spoilage. A staggering amount of food goes to waste every day in this country. Even with some uncertainty, so far, there is little scientific evidence to make me worry about the products manufactured by NanoPackaging Solutions, which are like so many other food packaging products that are already in our grocery stores. Max: Hmm, well great, well thank you for sharing your expertise with us today professor. Scientist: Great! Max: Okay, we’re here with some representatives from the local NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Thank you for being willing to talk with us today. We’re from WREF TV and we’re hoping to ask you some questions about the vote today. Environmentalist: Sure, you bet. The people of East Falls need to understand that there’s more than just jobs at stake here. Max: So what do you mean by that? Environmentalist: We see real risks with nanotechnology, and the Eco Footprint Foundation has done extensive research into the safety of nanotechnology and nanosilver in particular. Studies have shown that nanosilver can harm living creatures in the water and in the soil. We are strongly opposed to the introduction of NanoPackaging Solutions in East Falls because because there’s no evidence that assures us that nanosilver products are safe for our health and for the environment. Nanosilver food packaging amounts to playing with fire, and East Falls should be aware of it and steer clear. There are other ways to package food, and other ways to employ people, in solving the world’s problems and not creating new ones. Max: So, what sorts of solutions do you see? Enviroinmentalist: In the US we have moved towards highly processed and convenient foods, which tend to be high in fat and sugar and salt, but super low in nutritional value. This way of eating causes health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Why should East Falls be promoting it? Don’t we all know people in East Falls who are suffering from these problems, or have even died from it? NanoPackaging Solutions isn’t going to be making solutions. It’s going to be making things worse! Max: So are there any types of packaging that you would advocate for? Environmentalist: The Eco Footprint Foundation would endorse food packaging practices that would: (1) use reusable and biodegradable materials that won’t kill bacteria or anything else and (2) increase the availability of consumption of highly nutritious, minimally processed foods that promote health. If we want a healthier future, it needs to show in the choices that we make. East Falls can choose a healthier future for people and the planet with a NO vote today. Max: Okay, strong words from the Eco Footprint Foundation. Max: Okay, we’re back with WREF TV. Would you be willing to answer a few questions for us today. Teacher: Sure. Max: Okay, so for our viewers, please tell us your name and your initial concerns about today’s vote, okay? Teacher: Well, my name is Karla Brown, and I’m a teacher in the East Falls Community School System and a parent concerned about the East Falls my children will inherit. Max: And what concerns you specifically? Teacher: Well, I worry about the long-term ramifications of today’s vote. First of all, we need jobs. If there aren’t new employment opportunities here soon, people will leave. Most people don’t have a lot of savings, and there is only so long they’ll be able to hang on, no matter how much they love the community. Max: Any other concerns? Teacher: There are costs to accepting the NanoPackaging Solutions– –it ‘s not a gift. The tax revenues we give up with the abatements will directly impact the school system’s budget, and I don’t think that sacrificing resources for education is the way to a bright future for our children. Individual workers make sacrifices to pay our taxes year after year. Why shouldn’t companies have to pay their fair share? Max: Any other concerns, you’d like to share with our viewers today? Teacher: Yes, actually. My mother recently survived a bout with melanoma, and I spent a lot of time on the internet researching sunscreens. It turns out that some of the new sunscreens use nano-sized zinc and titanium. People are slathering themselves with invisible metal without even knowing it. Cancer makes you think long and hard about what we’re all exposed to. I just wish that companies had to do more truth-telling to consumers about the products using the latest and greatest technologies. We’re taking risks, putting our kids at risk, without even knowing it. Max: Well, thanks for talking with us today. Teacher: Thank you for having me.

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