January 27, 2012

Millions Needed To Ensure Nanotechnology Safety

The National Research Council said on Wednesday that in order to study the potential health hazards of nanotechnology, researchers will need to drum up an additional $24 million a year.

The research council said in a study that a new federal oversight agency is also required to integrate research by private business, universities and international groups.

Nanotechnology is being used in a fast-growing variety of consumer products, and involves designing and manufacturing materials on a one-billionth of a meter scale.

The technology is used in areas ranging from stain-resistant clothing and cosmetics, to food additives.

The study said that nanotechnology's product sales were about $225 billion in 2009 and it is expected to grow rapidly in the next decade.

"Despite the promise of nanotechnology, without strategic research into emergent risks associated with it -- and a clear understanding of how to manage and avoid potential risks -- the future of safe and sustainable nanotechnology-based materials, products, and processes is uncertain," the study authors wrote in a statement.

The committee of 19 scientists said little progress has been made on learning the health effects of engineered nanotechnology materials (ENMs) that have been swallowed, inhaled or absorbed by humans.

The federal Centers for Disease Control said there are indications that nanoparticles are able to penetrate the skin, or move into the respiratory system.

It said that at this time, limited evidence suggests caution when being exposed to nanoparticles.

The research council said that half of nanomaterials are made from ceramic nanoparticles, with another 20 percent each made from carbon nanotubes and nanoporous materials.

The study said the complexity of ENMs and their coatings make them hard to determine what risks they are to human health.

It said the federal government set aside $123.5 million in its 2012 budget for ENM safety research, and that level should remain stable for about five years.

The committee also said public, private and international groups should designate another $5 million a year for collecting and disseminating information on ENM, and $10 million for instrumentation.

Another $3 million to $5 million a year should be invested in developing and providing benchmark nanomaterials, according to the report.  Also, another $2 million would be needed to identify nanomaterials sources and develop research networks.

The authors said a new body is needed with the authority to direct federal safety research in place of the existing National Nanotechnology Initiative.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


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