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Nanotech Safety

NRC report blasts federal research strategy for addressing risks of nanomaterials

by Britt E. Erickson
December 11, 2008

Credit: iStock
Interior of a carbon nanotube.
Credit: iStock
Interior of a carbon nanotube.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S research plan for assessing the potential environmental, health, and safety (EHS) risks of nanomaterials is inadequate, concludes a new report from the National Research Council. The report emphasizes the need for a national strategic plan—one that includes a broader group of stakeholders and goes beyond what the federal multiagency National Nanotechnology Initiative can develop.

"If we want to see a good return on the investment that is going into nanotech research and development, something else has to happen when it comes to risk research," emphasizes Andrew Maynard, chief science adviser of the nonprofit Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and a member of the NRC committee that reviewed the NNI plan.

The NRC committee looked at several elements that it considered essential for a research strategy. "The government document fell short on every one of those elements," Maynard notes. In particular, the committee found that the government's strategy lacks a clear vision, specific goals, and an evaluation of the current state of the science, Maynard notes.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Science & Technology, said in a written statement that he will reintroduce NNI legislation next year to address concerns about the adequacy of research on the EHS aspects of nanotechnology. H.R. 5940, which passed the House in June (C&EN, June 23, page 26), contained several provisions "aimed at correcting weaknesses in the federal research program cited in the NRC report," Gordon noted.

A coalition of concerned stakeholders, including industry trade groups, nanomaterial manufacturers, and environmental organizations, reacted to the report by issuing a joint statement that echoes the concerns raised by the NRC committee. "The NRC report lends all the more urgency to our coalition's call for the independent development of a comprehensive road map to guide federal research on the EHS implications of nanotechnology," they wrote.


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