Nanotech safety needs specific government risk research strategy and funding

Jan 04, 2007

"Prioritizing nanotechnology risk research isn't rocket science," said Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies chief scientist Andrew Maynard. Dr. Maynard's remark is in his testimony today before the federal government's first public meeting focused exclusively on research needs and priorities for the environmental, health and safety risks of engineered nanoscale materials.

"The specific health and safety questions that are important to be addressed for nanotechnology are reasonably straightforward," according to Maynard. "And a lot already has been published about what we know and do not know about the potential risks and about how to fill existing research gaps."

"Far harder is getting the federal government to take action in three critical areas: first, documenting what relevant risk research exists; second, ensuring that agencies responsible for oversight and related research--the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food & Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)--are adequately funded; and third, developing a robust, top-down research plan that can be implemented by the U.S. government and used for collaborations with industry and with researchers in other countries," said Maynard.

During his presentation Maynard mixed a powdered nano calcium and magnesium dietary supplement into a glass of water to help illustrate key risk research questions the federal government needs to tackle: what effect do airborne nanoparticles have on the lungs, do nanoparticles penetrate the skin, what happens to nanoparticles in water, how do they behave in the gastrointestinal tract, and what happens to nanoparticles when they are poured down a drain and enter the waste stream?

Maynard points out that these are "obvious questions" but "ones that should be considered when prioritizing research." "It is important to remember that risk research has a purpose--to protect people and the environment from harm." Maynard emphasizes that "While exploratory research has its place, it is not always the best model for providing workable answers to definite questions needed by regulatory agencies."

"Nanotechnology is no longer a scientific curiosity. It is in the workplace, the environment and the home. But if people are to realize nanotechnology's benefits--in medicine, communications, and energy production--the federal government needs a master plan for identifying and reducing potential risks. This plan should include a top-down risk research strategy, sufficient funding to do the job, and the mechanisms to ensure that resources are used effectively. "

Maynard proposes that "The federal government invest a minimum of $100 million over the next two years in targeted risk research in order to lay a strong, science-based foundation for safe nanotechnology." According to Maynard's analysis, despite investing more than $1 billion annually on nanotechnology research, U.S. government spending on highly relevant nanotechnology risk research is only $11 million per year.

Source: Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

Explore further: Nanoparticles release drugs to reduce tooth decay

Related Stories

Some antibacterials come with worrisome silver lining

Feb 24, 2014

Silver has long been known for its ability to kill some of the nasty microbes that can make people sick. In hospitals, it's used to help burn victims, to combat germs on catheters and even to wipe out dangerous "superbugs" ...

Nanoparticles: Big potential or big threat?

Jul 11, 2012

Zinc oxide would be the perfect sunscreen ingredient if the resulting product didn't look quite so silly. Thick, white and pasty, it was once seen mostly on lifeguards, surfers and others who needed serious sun protection.

Scientists developing poison pill for Asian carp

Apr 03, 2012

Biologist Jon Amberg has spent the last two years obsessed with fish guts, laboring over a singular challenge: Develop a poison pill that will kill Asian carp and leave other fish unscathed.

The crisis of shareholder primacy

Mar 20, 2012

If we want to prevent the next financial crisis, a new model of corporate governance is needed to replace shareholder primacy in financial institutions. Gates Scholar Mike Marin explains why.

Recommended for you

Nanoparticles release drugs to reduce tooth decay

5 hours ago

Therapeutic agents intended to reduce dental plaque and prevent tooth decay are often removed by saliva and the act of swallowing before they can take effect. But a team of researchers has developed a way ...

Combining magnetism and light to fight cancer

10 hours ago

By combining, in a liposome, magnetic nanoparticles and photosensitizers that are simultaneously and remotely activated by external physical stimuli (a magnetic field and light), scientists at the Laboratoire ...

Scientists convert microbubbles to nanoparticles

Mar 30, 2015

Biomedical researchers led by Dr. Gang Zheng at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre have successfully converted microbubble technology already used in diagnostic imaging into nanoparticles that stay trapped in tumours to potentially ...

Designer's toolkit for dynamic DNA nanomachines

Mar 26, 2015

The latest DNA nanodevices created at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM)—including a robot with movable arms, a book that opens and closes, a switchable gear, and an actuator—may be intriguing ...

User comments : 0

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.