AIHA Nanotechnology Working Group releases comments on NNI Strategic Plan

(Nanowerk News) The following comments were drafted by the The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) Nanotechnology Working Group. The comments were approved by the working group and the AIHA board of directors.
Effective nanomaterials safety programs have been operative in a number of laboratories for several years. Considerable information already exists about controlling the hazards of nanoscale materials. Work practices have existed for decades to protect workers handling hazardous agents during radiological, biological, pharmaceutical, and chemical research and NIOSH has published interim guidelines for working with nanomaterials. In the absence of regulatory drivers, many governmental and industrial research facilities have adopted best practices and the NIOSH interim guidelines into their nanotechnology safety programs. However, adoption of the NIOSH interim guidelines into academic nanomaterial research is lagging.
Many new chemists and material scientists hired directly from graduate school are unaware of the fundamentals of nanomaterial safety and during their graduate education, many may have unknowingly had prolonged exposure to airborne nanomaterials. In contrast, new scientists hired from graduate level biological and biomedical programs are familiar with the practices and principles of biological safety. Many have spent years working on research projects that incorporate the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules and although exposures occur, they are rare.
One difference between the nanomaterial and biological research communities is the maturity of their respective safety programs. Thirty-five years ago, recombinant DNA (rDNA) was an emergent technology and in a manner similar to nanomaterial research, there was a considerable amount of scientific uncertainty surrounding the potential hazards associated with rDNA research. Interim safety guidelines were developed by the principal scientists involved with rDNA research and consensus safe work practices were adopted. After years of emphasis in academic research, biological safety has become second nature to scientists conducting biological research and development. Also, since the safe practices were developed as guidelines based on the risk information known at the time, rather than embedded regulations, over the years the guidelines have become less restrictive as the risk information related to rDNA work became better characterized.
The nanomaterial research community and regulatory community both can learn from this success and apply the lessons learned to provide appropriate oversight for an emerging technology. The principles and practices of nanomaterial safety need to be incorporated into graduate research curriculums and research mentors need to lead by example. This will better prepare students to enter the workforce with a skill essential for career advancement, integrating safety into their research projects and daily work practices.
We encourage the NNI member agencies to include provisions in the framework to develop initiatives to integrate best practices for safely handling nanomaterials into academic graduate research programs. One initiative to support this effort is currently underway in California where representatives of California's academic community, the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control, and federal NIOSH are collaborating on a project to develop consensus safety guidelines for academic research involving engineered nanomaterials. Such guidelines could become a basis for national safety practices for laboratory work involving engineered nanomaterials. Worker education and safe work practices are vital to prevent occupational disease that may result from exposure to nanomaterials. Efforts to improve nanomaterial safety in academic research programs will support all four NNI goals.
Source: AIHA