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Posted: April 14, 2009

SAFENANO team completes global review of nanomaterial EHS research

(Nanowerk News) EMERGNANO – the first global review of active research into the environment, health and safety risks of nanotechnology has been published today by Defra, the UK Government Department for Food & Rural Affairs.
The review (pdf download, 1.2 MB), led by the SAFENANO initiative at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, UK provides a unique identification and analysis of research carried out worldwide on nanotechnology safety, including that relating to hazard, exposure, risk assessment & regulation.
EMERGNANO identified more than 670 projects from around the world, and after careful selection assessed more than 260 unique, relevant projects completed, close to completion or in progress since 2004. The final report provides a comprehensive listing of projects, alongside detailed evaluation of their outputs. It also provides an assessment of the extent to which these projects contribute towards meeting the 18 Research Objectives (ROs) for nanotechnology risks laid out by the UK Nanotechnology Research Coordination Group (NRCG), and highlights the gaps still remaining.
SAFENANO Director Rob Aitken, who led the team appointed to produce EMERGNANO, said "EMERGNANO was a huge undertaking carried out in a very short timescale. It provides a snapshot of worldwide research in this area, both completed and in progress, together with a unique evaluation of the contribution that this research will make to the research objectives identified by Defra” “In terms of numbers of studies identified, we found a widespread imbalance in the work being carried out across the main thematic areas within the eighteen research objectives,” Aitken continued “There are also large regional variations in the type of study funded in different countries or economic areas, perhaps reflecting different national priorities or capabilities. However, EMERGNANO represents the best available picture of current strategic research”.
EMERGNANO’s assessment reveals some important progress made across the four main thematic areas of characterisation, exposure, toxicology and ecotoxicology spanned by the 18 ROs. This includes:
  • For characterisation and reference materials, identification of candidate materials & minimum characterisation specifications for development of reference nanoparticles for toxicological and other investigations is underway. Some commercial reference materials are now beginning to emerge.
  • For exposure assessment and control, recent research has conclusively shown that filters, such as those used in respiratory protective equipment and in air cleaning systems, are highly effective in removing nanoparticles from the air.
  • For toxicology, lack of mass balance toxicokinetics for any nanoparticle and the patchy nature of the published toxicokinetic data has proven a severe impediment to identifying extra-pulmonary hazards. In addition, testing to date has focussed on a very limited number of particle types and sizes, making it impossible to know whether all NP behave in the same way toxicokinetically, or whether (as seems more likely) a structure activity relationship will emerge that highlights certain sizes and surface chemistries as factors enhancing or limiting potential of any nanoparticle to translocate or be toxic;
  • In ecotoxicology, work to date has improved understanding of kinetics of nanoparticle uptake in invertebrate and vertebrate models, and has related this to toxicity. In addition, recent studies which focus on microbial organisms help to provide information on nanoparticle effects at both an individual organism and greater community level.
  • Completing such a wide-spanning appraisal of studies was not however without its difficulties. “A disappointing aspect was that we were unable to identify significant output from many of the studies identified, including some which had already been completed” Aitken commented.
    In addition to mapping those projects identified against the 18 NRGC ROs, EMERGNANO provided a prospective appraisal on new data which may trigger further consideration of the need for regulation of nanomaterials; an assessment of the possibility of a qualitative risk assessment; and consideration of whether there is sufficient information to invoke the precautionary principle for one or more nanomaterials.
    However the study found a lack of relevant data on which such judgements could be made. “After assessing study quality and completeness, we did not identify a sufficient body of evidence to make a qualitative risk assessment feasible for any category of nanomaterial” Aitken added.
    EMERGNANO was undertaken by a multidisciplinary group of expert scientists, chosen from leading research institutes in the UK and beyond, to ensure full coverage of the scientific disciplines represented within the scope of nanotechnology risk research. Institutes involved include: SAFENANO, Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh University, Central Science Laboratories, Cranfield University, University of Leeds & the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Recommendations made within the report were also supported by a workshop and dialogue held to reach a consensus view about the remaining gaps and future priorities.
    Whilst EMERGNANO highlights some of the key progress made to date within nanotechnology risk research, it is clear nonetheless that major gaps in the knowledge base still remain. “While incremental progress is being made in some areas, the programme of research activity has yet to deliver step changes in the knowledge base on these issues. Overall EMERGNANO highlights the need for a more strategic co-ordinated research agenda to be developed, funded and implemented” Aitken concluded.
    Source: SAFENANO