The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars recently published "A Survey of Environmental, Health and Safety Risk Management Information Needs and practices Among Nanotechnology Firms in the Massachusetts Region." The survey was undertaken by two industrial hygienists at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and was conducted in two steps:
(i) 43 companies completed an on-line nano-EHS-risk questionnaire; and
(ii) 12 gave further in-depth nano-EHS-risk interviews.
The surveyed companies were all located in Massachusetts and "adjoining areas" of New England.
Interestingly, only 53% of the 43 online respondents indicated they are currently taking steps to manage specific nano-related EHS risks. An additional eight percent were not sure. On the other hand, only 9 or 10 of these respondents actually reported having nano-products or services in the commercialization stage. Half of these companies indicated they are taking steps to manage specific nano-related EHS risks.
An important predicate question for the 43 on-line respondents would have been whether they are actually manufacturing nanoscale materials, and/or using nano-sized particlesin the workplace. It is hard to tell whether the respondents were actually asked this baseline question. The closest the study gets is reporting that 2 of the companies claimed to be manufacturing nanoparticles, 9 claimed to be handling nanoparticles within the company, and 4 claimed to be using them in fabrication. (These answers, of course, may overlap.) The most interesting point (from my perspective) would be learning what percentage of this small subset are taking steps to address potential nano-related EHS issues.
Finally, the 12 companies agreeing to follow-up interviews (6 are in commercialization) indicated they are taking some or all of the following steps to manage specific nano-related EHS risks: relying on supplier data, using expert judgment, employing best practices, and/or looking to current regulatory requirments as guidelines. These companies also indicated the most preferable way to receive nano-related EHS risk information is over the internet through Material Safety Data Sheets provided by suppliers. Consulting firms and lawyers were viewed as the least preferable way to receive such information. (Ouch).