By Igor Linkov (Society for Risk Analysis/Intertox), Mike Ellenbecker (Mass. Toxic Use Reduction Institute), and Sam Lipson (Cambridge Public Health Department).

With over 400 products in use today, what information is available to demonstrate that nanomaterials do not pose unnecessary risks to human and environmental health? What areas are in need of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) science? How could risks and environmental impacts of nanomaterials throughout the product life-cycle be minimized with engineering practices to improve product safety and to avoid potential future litigation? To help answer some of these questions, a one-day training course at MIT was designed to help navigate the ever-changing world of nanotechnology. 140 participants representing academia, industry, government and consulting attended the one-day course. Fourteen lecturers covered a diverse range of topics essential for professionals in nanotechnology and biotechnology.

In the introductory session, Mr. Robert Healy, City of Cambridge Manager, opened workshop and highlighted its importance for the proposed city ordinance regulating nanomaterial followed by Dr. Kim Thompson, SRA President, who introduced risk assessment fundamentals and related risk assessment methods and tools for nanotechnology. Dr. Travis Earles of the White House Office of Science and Technology reviewed government activities designed to improve nanomaterials EHS and increase understanding of risks.

Exposure assessment and risk characterization session started with presentation by Dr. Mike Ellenbecker of Mass Toxics Use Reduction Institute, one of the workshop sponsors. Dr. Ellenbecker’s presentation reviewed methods and tools available for exposure assessment. One important conclusion from his research is that even though sound industrial hygiene practices may reduce worker exposure to nanomaterials, additional research is necessary to confirm that the protection is sufficient to minimize exposure to nanoparticles specific to the process. Dr. Kristen Kulinowski of ICON followed with summary of exposure assessment and risk characterization research. Dr. Jeff Steevens of the US Army Corps presented nanomaterial impacts on ecological receptors, an often overlooked area that is currently attracting attention. Dr. Jackie Isaacs of Northeastern University Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (workshop sponsor) introduced Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a tool for nanomanufacturing process improvement. She highlighted that information on EHS impacts of nanomaterials / products is largely missing.

Occupational exposure is probably the risk frontier for nanomaterials health and safety. Dr. Murashov of NIOSH reviewed current activities and programs supported by NIOSH and other agencies in the US. Dr. Sheremeta presented efforts in Canada, including developing strategic programs that enable relevant risk-focused research. Dr. Linkov and Hull introduced NanoSAFE, a practical EHS management approach developed from within the nanotech industry that has been praised by government and industry experts in providing a comprehensive yet practical strategy for managing emerging nanotechnology risks in industrial settings.

The session on policy implications of nanotechnology started with Dr. Michelson summary of activities at the Woodrow Wilson Center designed to monitor regulatory development in the field of nanotechnology. Dr. Michelon moderated session where Sam Lipson of City of Cambridge informed about background behind the proposed city ordinance and John Monica and James Votaw, two attorneys renowned for their nanotechnology work reviewed current regulatory environment on City, State and Federal levels.

The final session included several talks on risk management.. The focus of Drs. Shatkin and Davis presentation was on the current activities in EPA/ORD designed to develop risk management framework and case studies. Dr. Karkan of Health Canada focused on medical devices and management of health risks. Dr. Linkov concluded workshop by linking evolving tool of multi-criteria decision analysis with emerging issues and data gaps in nanomaterials risk assessment and characterization.

Nanotechnology is a broad and complex field of research and manufacturing with many discrete decision-points. For example, some decisions might be based upon an ability to predict which nanomaterials will have favorable chemical characteristics and lower toxicities, to identify important knowledge and technology gaps, and to develop effective communication with stakeholders and the general public. The lectures coupled with panel discussions and Q&A allowed participants to gain an awareness of the critical issues in this evolving field and a set of conceptual tools needed to make decisions and prioritize challenges in their own organizations.

The workshop was sponsored by SRA Decision Analysis and Risk Specialty Group and New England Chapter, Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute, MI, Northeastern University and the City of Cambridge. Workshop slides are available from Dr. Igor Linkov, (a modest fee will be charged to benefit SRA).