Science and Technology Innovation Program
Live Webcast: First Research Inventory of the Environmental, Health and Safety Impacts of Nanotechnology
To watch the video, follow the links in the See Also box to the right of this screen.
New Inventory Of Research Into Nanotechnology's
Health & Environmental Effects
At a November 29th session the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson Center released a new inventory of research into nanotechnology's potential environmental, human health, and safety effects (EH&S). The first single inventory of largely government-funded research projects exploring nanotechnology's possible EH&S impacts, the initiative shows the need for more resources, for a coherent risk-related research strategy, and for public-private partnerships and international EH&S research collaborations.
This unique inventory is publicly available online at: www.nanotechproject.org. It was compiled and released by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Project is a partnership of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Wilson Center.
"For the first time, policymakers, corporations and others can access and assess the scope, quality and efficacy of federally-funded research projects examining nanotechnology's potential human health and environmental effects. The inventory gives government officials and scientists in industry and academe the opportunity to work together. It enables them to develop a coherent research roadmap and to set research priorities. It helps makes possible the planning necessary to create public-private sector partnerships and international collaborations for risk-related nanotechnology research programs in the future," said Dr. Andrew Maynard, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies' chief science advisor.
Too Little Being Spent on Future Effects of Nano-Toxicity
Total U.S. spending on all nanotechnology research and development (R&D) now stands at approximately $3 billion per year—about one-third of the estimated $9 billion invested worldwide by the public and private sectors combined.
According to Dr. Maynard, "The federal government's National Nanotechnology Initiative estimates that approximately $39 million annually in government funds—out of total expenditures of about $1 billion—are directed at environmental, health, and safety R&D. The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies' inventory identifies about $27 million currently being spent by the U.S. government to explore possible adverse health, environmental and safety impacts of engineered nanomaterials or nanoparticles. That limited investment is focused on research into human toxicity studies and some direct environmental impacts. Very little is being spent to investigate common workplace safety issues like the risk of explosion in production of nanopowders."
Maynard characterized most current investment as focused on first generation applications, many of which are already on the market. Continuing he highlighted the lack of implications research that deals with nanomaterials being developed now and in the future.
Little funding is allocated to explore possible links between exposure to nanomaterials and diseases of the lung, heart or skin. Similar to last year's Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering study (July 2004), the Project has not been able to identify U.S. government-sponsored epidemiological research looking at the relationship between exposure and possible long-term health outcomes during the manufacture of nanomaterials like carbon nanotubes.
"Specifically, out of a total of 161 federally-funded, risk-related projects, we found only 15 relevant to occupation-caused physical injury (totaling $1.7 million), and only two highly relevant projects on the long-term environmental and occupational exposures that potentially could cause disease (totaling $0.2 million). These are important gaps that must be filled to ensure that nanotechnology is safely commercialized and accepted by the public as not harmful," stated Dr. Maynard. "In particular, more research is needed to address the potential life-cycle impacts of nanotechnology-based products as they move from manufacture to use and to eventual disposal."
Inventory Is Critical Start, But Global Action Is Needed
"This first inventory is not comprehensive, but it is the best available, detailed and scientifically classified collection of data about nanotechnology EH&S risk-related research that exists either inside or outside government," declared Dr. Maynard. "It is intended to be international and expanding, and will be regularly updated."
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Director David Rejeski noted, "Some experts suggest that existing funding for risk-related nanotechnology research must be doubled or tripled. Realistically, no single country is likely to have adequate resources to cover all risk assessment needs, especially as nanotechnologies advance and become more complex and pervasive. What is clear from the inventory is that increased funding must be associated with an overarching research strategy and partnerships, if critical issues are to be addressed with 'due diligence.'"
"Nanotechnologies hold tremendous promise. Many of tomorrow's medical breakthroughs, new jobs, and communication leaps depend on it. That's why The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Wilson Center created the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies," according to Rejeski.
"But nanotechnology's future depends on the willingness of government, business and public interest groups—both at home and abroad—to work together to build consumer trust and to tackle any potential health and environmental issues early. This inventory is a tremendous tool to help achieve this important goal," said Rejeski.