Public Release: 

CBEN launches partnership for sustainable nanotechnology

Broad coalition will work together to ensure tiny tech benefits human health and the environment

Rice University

HOUSTON, Oct. 28, 2004 - The Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University today announced the formation of the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON), a collaboration among academic, industry, regulatory and non-governmental interest groups that will work to assess, communicate, and reduce potential environmental and health risks associated with nanotechnology. Key council advisors met at Rice today to launch the new initiative.

"ICON was created to directly and openly address issues of nanotechnology sustainability now so that potential benefits can be maximized and potential pitfalls can be avoided," said Vicki L. Colvin, CBEN director and professor of chemistry at Rice University. "Success will depend upon the efforts of many people and organizations from a variety of sectors."

ICON welcomes participation from a diverse group of stakeholders, including academic researchers, government researchers and policymakers, industrial researchers and safety officers, and members of nonprofit organizations. ICON is located at Rice and coordinated by CBEN.

Activities in four categories will be supported by the council:

  • Science and engineering research into the potential environmental and health impacts of engineered nanostructures;

  • Social science research into public perceptions toward new technology, and the role that regulatory and other governmental policies can and should play in nanotechnology stewardship;

  • Collaborative policy activities that develop international standards for engineered nanostructure terminology and metrology, safety guidelines, and best laboratory practices;

  • Public communication and outreach that tracks all relevant technical data on nanotechnology's potential risks and presents this information in terms and formats that are accessible by laypersons.

    ICON activities will be supported by the hard work of people from government, industry, academia and the non-profit community and through contributions from industrial partners committed to adopting responsible strategies for nanotechnology commercialization. ICON Founding Sponsors include DuPont, Procter and Gamble, Intel, L'Oréal, Mitsubishi Corporation/Frontier Carbon Corporation and the Swiss Reinsurance Company. Carbon Nanotechnologies, Inc. is a supporting member.

    "As a global science company, DuPont is proud to be a founding sponsor of ICON as it creates an international forum for discussion and debate of nanotechnology stewardship issues where diverse groups of stakeholders can work together to progress the boundaries of science in a sustainable and responsible way," said William Provine, DuPont's ICON representative.

    Key participants from the non-profit sector include philosopher Davis Baird (University of South Carolina) and pulmonary toxicologist Günter Oberdörster (University of Rochester). Government advisors include Donald Marlowe (Food and Drug Administration), Andrew Maynard (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and David Rejeski (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars). Also in attendance at today's launch meeting were ICON advisors Tracy Hester (Bracewell & Patterson, LLP) and Sean Murdock (Nanobusiness Alliance), as well as staff members from public interest organizations including Environmental Defense and the ETC Group.

    "What we're really trying to do is create a new model for the introduction of emerging technologies into society," stated Kristen M. Kulinowski, executive director of CBEN and faculty fellow in chemistry at Rice. "Instead of waiting for problems to emerge and then reacting, we want to get ahead of the curve. That requires anticipating, as best we can, under what circumstances engineered nanomaterials might adversely affect the environment or human health, and then engaging in research and policymaking to head off these potential problems."

    ICON's first activity: Standards for nanomaterials

    The first activity supported by the council is the formation of an international study group tasked with developing a universal, systematic terminology system for engineered nanoparticles. Research into the properties, synthesis, and applications of nanostructures is growing at an exponential rate, yet to date there does not exist a common language to describe the chemical compositions and physical forms of these new materials. This deficiency hampers technical communication within and across the various fields involved in this highly interdisciplinary enterprise; outreach to the public at large as products containing nanomaterials enter the marketplace; and effective governmental oversight of and standardization for the industry.


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