From: Scott Sincoff, ENN
Published January 27, 2012 09:00 AM

Nanotechnology Safety Strategies Need Improvement

According to a report released by the National Research Council (NRC), human and environmental safeties of nanomaterials remain uncertain despite the spending of billions of dollars in nanotechnology research and development over the past ten years.

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The NRC states that their research concluded that a safe and new research strategy is necessary, as well as a required governmental oversight to certify the research is being done safely and efficiently.

The popularity of nanotechnology has steadily increased in recent years because the nanoscale materials exhibit chemical, optical, and electrical properties that could support its status as a catalyst in the chemical field. According to the report, safety is becoming more of a concern for researchers studying nanotechnology because they are experimenting more with nanoengineering, and therefore are creating an increased amount of dangerous chemicals.

In recent years, the NRC has reported that the United States' National Nanotechnology Institute (NNI) is spending approximately $120 million yearly on environmental, health, and safety research (EHS). The report also states that NNI introduced their first nanotechnology EHS safety strategy in 2008, which they updated in 2011.

Even with NNI's progress the authors of the NRC report felt that there is room for improvement. The report says that there is little research in significant areas, such as the health and safety of complex nanomaterials made up of element combinations, and the effects on humans ingesting nanoparticles. The report states that "in spite of the need to provide more certain information on the potential EHS risks, the gaps in understanding identified in many scientific workshops over the last decade have not been aggressively addressed with needed research."

In order to influence progress, the authors of the NRC report created a structure for a new EHS strategy. The authors of the report recommended that researchers implement a methodically efficient approach which, in turn, evaluates the multiple risk factors associated with the nanomaterials, the exposure of those materials, and the likely rigorousness of that exposure. Andrew Maynard, a risk scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, and co-author of the NRC report states that the suggestions "focus the research on materials likely to cause harm."

Maynard, along with the co-authors of the NRC report also recommend that the NNI should alter who oversees their research. The NRC report states that NNI currently consists of twenty-five federal agencies which control their own spending and EHS research; the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) then helps the NNI agencies coordinate their research, in order to prevent duplication. Even with this influence, the NNCO has no authority to mandate who implements the novel research strategy suggestions put forth by the NRC.

Regarding the implementation of the NNI's research strategies, the NRC recommends that the NNI set up a panel within the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. The NRC did not implement that, but are leaving that specific decision up to the White House's Administration and the U.S. Congress.

For more information on this subject, please visit: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=13347

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