Nanomaterials for Environmental Remediation: Investigating the Role of Nanoinformatics in Support of Environmental, Health, and Safety Oversight of Nanotechnologies at the Local Level

Article excerpt

State agencies responsible for the environment, safety, and public health were surveyed to understand their current and future information needs and capabilities to regulate nanomaterials. Because significant data gaps still exist on the toxicity and ecological impacts of nanomaterials, precautionary measures should be taken. Research to develop techniques for exposure assessments, surveillance and monitoring, databases, and characteristics of workplaces where ENPs are used is encouraged.


Nanotechnology has emerged as the science of manipulating small matter at or near atomic and molecular scale in order to synthesize nano-objects, devices, and nanomaterials such as thin surface coatings, nanowires, and nanotubes, which are in the scale of between 1 to 100 nm (1 nm = 10-9 m) in at least one, two, or three dimensions, respectively (The Royal Society & the Royal Academy of Engineering, 2004). At this scale, nanomaterials can exhibit unique and novel properties that are distinctly different from bulk materials of similar composition. These properties haveS made nanomaterials viable and ideal candidates for numerous applications (Alivisatos, 1996; Meyyappan, 2007; Shatkin, 2008).

After only a few decades of research in nanotechnology and nanoscale science, nanomaterials are now widely used in electronics, biomedical, and pharmaceutical or drug delivery (Bhushan, 2010; DeJong & Borm, 2008; Lane & Kalil, 2011; Murday, Siegel, Stein, & Wright, 2009; Roco, 2004; The Royal Society & the Royal Academy of Engineering, 2004; Wang, Wang, Chen, & Shin, 2008). Other applications of nanomaterials include disease diagnosis, cosmetics, alternative energy, and catalysis (Bharali & Mousa, 2010; LaRocque, Bharali, & Mousa, 2009; National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH], 2005; National Nanotechnology Initiative, 2011). Most recently nanomaterials have successfully been used for cleanup and pollution control (Lekas, 2006; Lien & Zhang, 2001; Meyyappan, 2007; Savage & Diallo, 2005; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [U.S. EPA], 1997).

While the future and potential for applications of nanotechnology in environmental remediation in particular and other sectors in general appear bright, the other side of nanotechnology presents daunting challenges. Like other emerging technologies of the past, nanotechnology has ignited growing public debates on whether environmental and health aspects of its products and services outweigh social and economic benefits (Colvin, 2003; Roco, 2004). Scientific evidence indicates that exposure to nanomaterials can cause significant negative biological responses, including toxic health effects to humans and laboratory animals (Castranova, 2011; Nurkiewicz, Porter, & Hubbs, 2008; Pacurari, Castranova, & Vallyathan, 2010; Peter, Holian, & Sriram, 2008; Saga, Kommineni, & Castranova, 2007; Shvedova et al., 2008). For example, particles in the range of 1-100 nm, particularly those below 12 nm, can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause significant health impacts (Oberdorster et al., 2004; Sarin et al., 2008). A large quantity of scientific work also confirms a strong association between exposure to nanoparticles such as carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and asbestos-like illnesses (Poland et al., 2008).

Results of many toxicology studies have either been limited or inconclusive, however, due to variability in the manifestation of the physicochemical properties of nanomaterials during production, use, or disposal; cells and the organs used for testing; biochemical assays or doses used in the studies; and lack of information on work practices to estimate exposures (Alkilany & Murphy, 2010; Colvin, 2003; Maynard et al., 2006; Nel, Madler, & Velegol, 2009). Given this lack of organized and limited information, it is logical to share what is currently known about nanomaterials in order to support the regulatory oversight of nanotechnologies and prevent potential exposures to nanomaterials and work-related and public health risks. …