More resources needed to study dangers of nanotechnology
18 December 2005
A new inventory of research into nanotechnology's potential
environmental, human health, and safety effects (EH&S) shows the need for
more resources, for a coherent risk-related research strategy, and for
public-private partnerships and international EH&S research collaborations.
These are the key conclusions drawn from the first single inventory of
largely government-funded research projects exploring nanotechnology's
possible EH&S impacts.
The inventory 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. The inventory is available online at:
listing page) or
"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 make
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 scientist.
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.
"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," said Maynard. "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
"In addition, most of this investment focuses on first generation
nanotechnologies, many of which are already in the marketplace. Virtually
none deals with future generations of nanomaterials," according to Maynard.
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's scientists are not 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, the Project's scientists found only 15 relevant to
occupation-caused physical injury (totalling $1.7 million), and only two
highly relevant projects on the long-term environmental and occupational
exposures that potentially could cause disease (totalling $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 that
"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.
Source: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars