An April 2009 article in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) highlights the ongoing dispute over the federal government’s nano-related environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research strategy. 

Regular readers will recall that the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) published a 2008 document entitled “Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety Research” that outlined about 250 ongoing federal nano-research projects, identified EHS research gaps, and prioritized future EHS research needs.  The EHP artilce explains that in February 2009, the National Research Council published its review of the NNI document which was very critical (to put it mildly), and the NNI then posted its rebuttal to the NRC on its own website.   All three documents are well worth reading.  Exactly where federally-funded nano-related EHS research in the U.S. is headed (and regulation for that matter) presents complex political as well as scientific issues.

The EHS article also contains interesting quotes from three prominent scientists:

Jim Willis (EPA OPPT): Speaking about the response thus far to EPA’s Nanoscale Stewardship Program, Willis stated: “On the one hand, we thought it was pretty good responsiveness for a volunteer program,” he says. “On the other, we know there are hundreds of other nanomaterials that weren’t reported. And that indicates clearly that we need to do more if we want to get a better handle on what’s being produced, at what levels, and how humans are being exposed.”

Sally Tinkle (National Science and Technology Council): “There is still concern over exposure to nanoparticles at the end of the products’ life cycles, even if companies design the product to be completely safe for the immediate user. Once [a nano-enabled item] is thrown out and begins to decompose or degrade—or it begins to break down from day-to-day use—the particles can be released into the environment. Care needs to be taken to control the exposure throughout the product life cycle.”

Günter Oberdörster (University of Rochester): “I think there’s a certain amount of hype surrounding the toxicity issues,” he says. “However, until we know better, we should be careful and avoid exposure. You can do a lot of in vitro testing at high doses and identify a hazard, but you need the necessary exposure for a risk to be present.”