Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Nanotechnology and in Situ Remediation: A Review of the Benefits and Potential Risks

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Nanotechnology and in Situ Remediation: A Review of the Benefits and Potential Risks

Article excerpt

OBJECTIVE: Although industrial sectors involving semiconductors; memory and storage technologies; display, optical, and photonic technologies; energy; biotechnology; and health care produce the most products that contain nanomaterials, nanotechnology is also used as an environmental technology to protect the environment through pollution prevention, treatment, and cleanup. In this review, we focus on environmental cleanup and provide a background and overview of current practice; research findings; societal issues; potential environment, health, and safety implications; and future directions for nanoremediation. We do not present an exhaustive review of chemistry/engineering methods of the technology but rather an introduction and summary of the applications of nanotechnology in remediation. We also discuss nanoscale zerovalent iron in detail.

DATA SOURCES: We searched the Web of Science for research studies and accessed recent publicly available reports from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies and organizations that addressed the applications and implications associated with nanoremediation techniques. We also conducted personal interviews with practitioners about specific site remediations.

DATA SYNTHESIS: We aggregated information from 45 sites, a representative portion of the total projects under way, to show nanomaterials used, types of pollutants addressed, and organizations responsible for each site.

CONCLUSIONS: Nanoremediation has the potential not only to reduce the overall costs of cleaning up large-scale contaminated sites but also to reduce cleanup time, eliminate the need for treatment and disposal of contaminated soil, and reduce some contaminant concentrations to near zero--all in situ. Proper evaluation of nanoremediation, particularly full-scale ecosystem-wide studies, needs to be conducted to prevent any potential adverse environmental impacts.

KEY WORDS: environmental implications, environmental technology, hazardous wastes, nanoremediation, nanotechnology, pollutants, remediation, toxicity, waste sites, zero-valent iron. Environ Health Perspect 117:1823-1831 (2009). doi:10.1289/ehp.0900793 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 23 June 2009]

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Nearly $1 billion for remediation projects has been allocated to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009). Emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, could be applied in this cleanup effort to reduce costs and improve the overall effectiveness of environmental remediation methods.

"Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications" [National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) 2008]. Encompassing nanoscale science, engineering, and technology, nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and manipulating matter at this length scale. Although industrial sectors involving semiconductors; memory and storage technologies; display, optical, and photonic technologies; energy; biotechnology; and health care produce the most products containing nanomaterials, there are increasing efforts to use nanotechnology as an environmental technology to protect the environment through pollution prevention, treatment, and cleanup of long-term problems such as hazardous waste sites. The technology could be a beneficial replacement of current practices for site remediation. However, potential risks are poorly understood and might lead to unintended consequences. In this review, we present a background and overview of current practice, research findings related to nanotechnology, issues surrounding the use of nanotechnology for environmental remediation, and future directions.

Hazardous Waste Site Remediation

Background. The U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act in 1980 (CERCLA 1980). …

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