Nanotech Safety, Side Effects, & Health Risks Study Urged

Four-part research
The panel called for the launching a four-part research effort focused ways to accelerate research progress, as well as identifying:
• sources of nanomaterial releases,
• processes that affect exposure and hazards,
• nanomaterial interactions at subcellular to ecosystem-wide levels.

“A lot of things are being done right, but we need to think about how to regroup those efforts to get more power from the punch,” the New York Times quotes Mark R. Wiesner, a Duke University engineering professor and a member of the panel, as saying.

As director of the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology at Duke, Wiesner leads a group studying the movement and effects of nanomaterials in the environment.

“We cannot knock these things off on a case-by-case basis,” Dr. Wiesner tells the Times in a telephone interview. “The number and variety of nanomaterials that is possible is just mind-boggling. There are not enough beakers to do all the experiments required.”

New federal body
The panel also recommends the creation of a new body that has the authority to direct federal safety research to replace the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), the body that currently coordinates federal agencies’ investments in sector research and development.

Since 2000, the NNI has coordinated the operations of various U.S. agencies that fund nanomaterials-risks research. But it was initially founded to promote job creation in industries that use nanotechnology, such as cosmetics and car manufacturing, and has since played a dual role—both promoting nanotechnology while also overseeing research on its risks.

“There’s a potential conflict,” says Wisconsin-Milwaukee ecologist Klaper. She said the NAS panel is pushing for the separation of the research oversight role from promotional activities.

The last time the NAS weighed in on nanotechnology was in a report in 2008 that criticized the NNI. In the new report, the academy acknowledged the NNI’s progress, but pointed out that “there has not been sufficient linkage between research and research findings and the creation of strategies to prevent and manage risk.”

The new body the NAS panel is recommending should be tasked to ensure that federal research is integrated with that from private business, universities and international organizations, the panel concludes.

The panel recommends additional funding and funding authority, saying the NNI needs additional budgetary authority to pull together the US$120 million that the U.S. now spends bit by bit on nanomaterials-risk research into a larger, better-coordinated effort.

The federal government has set aside US$123.5 million in its 2012 budget for ENM safety research, and that level should remain stable for about five years, the report said.

The panel also advises a small funding increase of around US$22 million–US$24 million per year, saying this would benefit research.

According to the panel, US$3 million to US$5 million a year should be invested on developing and providing benchmark nanomaterials, while US$2 million a year should be spent on identifying nanomaterials sources, and another US$2 million should go to developing research networks.

Public, private and international groups should designate another US$5 million a year for collecting and disseminating information on ENM, and US$10 million for instrumentation, it said.

The panel recommends that all the new spending should be kept in place for five year.

The chairman of the panel and University of Southern California epidemiologist, Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, says his group would revisit the issue in 18 months. By then, he says, “We will hope the planning is in place and the N.N.I. and others are moving forward” with research.

In December, the NAS, together with other experts, called for the accelerated development of standard reference materials in nanotechnology so that scientists can calibrate the materials they are testing relative to one another.

This was reported by the journal Nature in a report that month on concerns over the standards and quality of the nanotoxicology literature.

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