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Analytical Chemistry

Toward Safer Nanotechnology

The federal government works on the issue, but experts say there is room for improvement

by Britt E. Erickson
July 3, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 27

Federal agencies have made some progress in addressing the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) risks of nanotechnology, a report from the White House National Science & Technology Council concludes. The document, issued in late June, highlights key areas where federal agencies have worked together to address nanotechnology EHS concerns from 2009 to 2012.

Those areas include development of measurement tools that consider the entire life cycle of nanomaterials, collection of workplace exposure data, study of interactions between nanomaterials and biological systems, and analysis of nanomaterials in the environment.

“Well-coordinated nanoEHS research is essential to ensure the responsible development and commercialization of ­nanotechnology,” says Thomas Kalil, chair of the committee that wrote the report.

Industry groups and others generally commend the report for providing a snapshot of how hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested by the federal government in nanotechnology EHS research. Some experts, however, say the report fails to synthesize what’s known about the EHS risks of nanotechnology and that it draws on old data.

The uses of nanomaterials are changing rapidly, and EHS research efforts are not keeping pace, says Andrew Maynard, director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center. To ensure that engineered nanomaterials are developed and used responsibly, he says, “research needs to be guided by commercialization trends and risk challenges that can sometimes evolve rapidly.”


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