Environmental and Human Health Effects of Manufactured Nanomaterials

Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2004 | Go to article overview
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Environmental and Human Health Effects of Manufactured Nanomaterials


The purpose of this collaborative research program is to strengthen support by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of research un the potential implications of nanotechnology and manufactured nanomaterials on human health and the environment. Research areas of interest include the toxicology, fate, transport/transformation, and bioavailability of nanomaterials, as well as human exposures to these materials. Proposals should address one of these topics.

The EPA supports research to meet its mission of protecting the environment and human health. Information used in risk assessment, which comprises hazard identification and exposure assessment, is central to the EPA's methods to meet its mission. As such, the EPA is interested in funding research on the possible risks and exposure routes of newly produced chemicals and materials at the nanoscale.

At the NSF, proposals should assist and enable the engineering and scientific communities to advance the frontiers of research, innovation, and education. The research should focus on emerging and potentially transformative research ideas, application of new expertise, or new approaches to established research topics.

NIOSH supports research to identify and investigate the relationships between hazardous working conditions and associated occupational diseases and injuries; to develop more sensitive means of evaluating hazards at work sites, as well as methods for measuring early markers of adverse health effects and injuries; to develop new protective equipment, engineering control technology, and work practices to reduce the risk of occupational hazards; and to evaluate the technical feasibility or application of a new or improved occupational safety and health procedure, method, technique, or system.

Nanotechnology has been defined by the interagency Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology of the federal Office of Science and Technology Policy as research and technology development at the atomic, molecular, or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately 1- to 100-nanometer (nm) range, to provide a fundamental understanding of phenomena and materials at the nanoscale, and to create and use structures, devices, and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small and/or intermediate size. The novel and differentiating properties and functions are developed at a critical length scale of matter typically under 100 nm. Nanotechnology research and development includes manipulation under control of the nanoscale structures and their integration into larger material components, systems, and architectures. Within these larger-scale assemblies, the control and construction of their structures and components remains at the nanometer scale. In some particular cases, the critical length scale for novel properties and phenomena may be under 1 nm (e.g., manipulation of atoms ~0.1 nm) or larger than 100 nm (e.g., nanoparticle-reinforced polymers have the unique feature at ~200-300 nm as a function of the local bridges or bonds between the nanoparticles and the polymer). See http://www.nano.gov/for more information.

Many industries are currently involved in nanotechnology-related activities. Among these activities is the manufacture of nanoscale materials that are used in a wide range of products, such as sunscreens, composites, medical devices, and chemical catalysts. According to data collected by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the quantity of manufactured nanoscale materials is expected to grow significantly in the next five years. Business Communications Company has projected a $10 billion global demand for nanoscale materials, tools, and devices in 2010. This large increase in demand and production could lead to environmental exposures of humans and other organisms to nanoscale materials.

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