Safety experts ill-equipped to handle nanotechnology in workplace

December 28, 2006

A strategic plan and more resources for risk research are needed now in order to ensure safe nano-workplaces today and in the future. That is the conclusion of Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Chief Science Advisor Andrew Maynard in a new article, "Nanotechnology and Safety" just released by Cleanroom Technology magazine.

Last year, nanotechnology was incorporated into $30 billion in manufactured goods--a number predicted to grow to $2.6 trillion in annual manufactured goods by 2014. Already, there are almost 400 manufacturer-identified nanotechnology-based consumer products on the market--ranging from computer chips to automobile parts and from clothing to cosmetics and dietary supplements. By 2015, the National Science Foundation estimates that the nanotechnology sector will employ more than 2 million workers.

But little is known about potential risks in many areas of nanotechnology--including worker exposures. Funding for risk-focused research is a small fraction of what is being spent on nanotechnology commercial applications.

"Because nanotechnology is a way of doing or making things rather than a discrete technology, there will never be a one-solution-fits-all approach for nanotechnology and nanomaterials workplace safety," states Maynard. "That is why the federal government needs to invest a minimum of $100 million over two years in targeted risk research in order to begin to fill in our occupational safety knowledge gaps and to lay a strong, science-based foundation for safe nanotechnology workplaces."

In the short term, because of incomplete information, Maynard stresses the need to supplement good hygiene practices in the workplace with nano-specific knowledge. Until more research data is available, Maynard proposes developing a "control banding" approach to nanotechnology workplace risk--a course of action that is between inaction and banning all nanomaterials as hazardous. This could involve selecting appropriate control approaches based on a nanomaterial "impact index" centered on composition-based hazard, and perturbations associated with their nanostructure--like particle size, shape, surface area and activity, and bulk-size hazard--and on an "exposure index" representing the amount of material used and its "dustiness."

The article is available in the magazine's December 2006 / January 2007 issue and is freely available online:>

Source: Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

Explore further: Nanotechnology: consumers must be convinced benefits outweigh risks

Related Stories

US government delays nanotechnology safety measures

October 31, 2007

Want to buy a bag of carbon nanotubes—in quantities from a few grams to hundreds of kilograms (100 kilograms = approximately 220 pounds)? With a credit card and Internet access, you can. But is the U.S. government doing ...

Nanotechnology: Learning from past mistakes

July 21, 2008

A new expert analysis in Nature Nanotechnology questions whether industry, government and scientists are successfully applying lessons learned from past technologies to ensure the safe and responsible development of emerging ...

Nanotechnology: A risky frontier?

November 5, 2009

Inside a cramped back room at Rushford Hypersonic, a start-up headquartered in southeastern Minnesota, sits a cube-like machine that throws a mean atomic fastball. At the push of a button, the reactor hurls atoms toward a ...

Recommended for you

Physicists develop new technique to fathom 'smart' materials

November 26, 2015

Physicists from the FOM Foundation and Leiden University have found a way to better understand the properties of manmade 'smart' materials. Their method reveals how stacked layers in such a material work together to bring ...

Mathematicians identify limits to heat flow at the nanoscale

November 24, 2015

How much heat can two bodies exchange without touching? For over a century, scientists have been able to answer this question for virtually any pair of objects in the macroscopic world, from the rate at which a campfire can ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.