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Posted: March 5, 2008
US nanotechnology strategy
(Nanowerk News) Chemical & Engineering News carries a story today on how prioritizing federal efforts for studying health and safety of nanomaterials is evolving.
Ever since manufacturers began using engineered nanomaterials in industrial processes and commercial products, some observers have raised concerns about the potential for these materials to be hazardous to human health or the environment. These worries prompted the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), the consortium of federal agencies that study or regulate nanomaterials, to devise a research strategy to answer questions about potential environmental, health, and safety (EHS) consequences of this new technology.
The latest report by NNI's Nanotechnology Environmental & Health Implications (NEHI) working group—established to monitor the federal research in the field and to set agency priorities—does just that. Although the report offers a more focused framework of research needs and priorities than have some past efforts, some in the field say the report overstates how much EHS research is going on, particularly when it comes to human exposure studies.
Clayton Teague, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, is more upbeat. "This research strategy is the result of a terrific team effort led by the NEHI working group," he says. "It reflects a strong consensus and commitment among the NNI member agencies on the roles they will assume to move the federal efforts in nanotechnology-related EHS research forward. The quality of the document demonstrates that the NNI is working hard to understand nano EHS issues in a systematic and coordinated fashion."
On the basis of estimates provided by the relevant federal agencies, the government will spend nearly $1.5 billion on nanotechnology projects in 2008, with $58.6 million devoted to EHS research. In its study, however, NEHI compiled a database of all federally funded nanotech research and found that $67.8 million was spent in 2006 on 246 EHS-related research projects at seven agencies. This amount includes all projects that have an EHS component of any kind.
To help agencies spend their money wisely, the NEHI strategy focuses on five major research areas: instrumentation and analytical methods, nanomaterials and human health, nanomaterials and the environment, human exposure assessment, and risk management methods. Much of the report, titled "Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental Health and Safety Research," is devoted to descriptions of current research activities in each of these categories.