The Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council's Committee on Technology has released a document identifying environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research and information needs related to understanding and management of potential risks of engineered nanoscale materials. The report is available at www.nano.gov.
The document will be used by Federal agencies participating in the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) to inform and guide research programs. It also communicates to industry, universities, and other nongovernment research entities approaches for obtaining the knowledge and understanding necessary to enable risk assessment and management of nanomaterials.
Nanotechnology is expected to contribute to scientific and technological advances in a wide range of fields, including energy, electronics, materials, and medicine. Many of the benefits of nanotechnology arise from the fact that nanomaterials exhibit properties and behavior different from those of materials at larger scales. At the nanoscale, material properties vary as the function of size, which not only enables new benefits, but also may lead to health and environmental risks.
That a technology could offer both benefits and, at the same time, potential risk is not unique to nanotechnology. Other common examples are electricity, household cleaning supplies, gasoline, and medical X-rays. When risks are understood, however, they can be successfully managed and the benefits of the technology can be realized.
"This document is extremely important in that it is the result of a highly collaborative effort by the Federal agencies that participate in the NNI to identify and agree upon major EHS research needs. It reflects inputs from the Federal regulatory agencies and describes the EHS research and information needed to enable sound risk assessment and risk management decision making," said Dr. Clayton Teague, Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.
"Information regarding the risks and benefits of nanomaterials will be utilized by regulatory bodies that are responsible for protecting public health and the environment and will be an integral part of the interagency process by which Federal nanotechnology EHS research is coordinated."
Dr. Teague noted that the document is a result of a comprehensive, two-year effort by the scientists and other agency representatives comprising the Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications Working Group of the NSET. Recommendations from industry liaison groups and other reports on EHS research needs were considered in the creation of the document.
The Federal Government supports research on fundamental properties and processes of nanomaterials that can lead to the understanding of broad classes of materials in various environments and applications; the development of metrology, tools, and methods for measuring exposure to and for characterizing nanomaterials; and research on toxicological properties and health effects of nanomaterials that are expected to be used widely in commerce. Manufacturers of nanomaterials and related products have a responsibility to test specific products for safety and to assess workplace safety and provide health surveillance.
The NNI agencies have funded EHS research since 2001 and funding levels are increasing annually. In 2005, approximately $35 million was devoted to research whose primary purpose is to understand and address potential risks to health and the environment posed by this technology. The estimated investment in this research for 2006 is $38 million, and the President's 2007 budget request calls for increasing the amount to $44 million. These figures do not include instrumentation and metrology and much of the basic research on characteristics of nanomaterials that must be developed in order to support toxicology, monitoring, and control efforts. The Government also is investing significantly in these fields of inquiry.
About the National Science and Technology Council and the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee
The Federal Government's nanotechnology research programs, in general, fall under the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). Interagency management of the NNI occurs within the framework of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), a Cabinet-level body that coordinates science and technology policies across the Federal Government. Under the NSTC Committee on Technology, the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee coordinates, plans, and implements the NNI. The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office supports the interagency coordination activities of the NSET.