Group Criticizes Latest Nanotech Risk Research Plan

The National Nanotechnology Initiative's (NNI) Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications (NEHI) Working Group recently released its strategy for nanotechnology environmental, health, and safety research. The strategy outlines risk research for more than 20 federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Earlier drafts of the strategy received widespread criticism from industry officials, policy experts and congressional lawmakers for being merely a list of general nanotechnology risk research categories. The new strategy makes substantial strides towards identifying prioritized research needs and assigning lead agencies to address these needs.

Also just released, the new EPA Office of Research & Development nanotechnology risk research plan appears to be in accord with the NEHI strategy. The EPA plan includes important studies on risk assessment methods and life-cycle analysis to determine the eventual fate of nanomaterials.

But, according to the Project for Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), major hurdles still stand in the way of the public, industry and government obtaining a better understanding of the risks posed by nanomaterials and how to limit those risks. Necessary resources for nanotechnology risk research are few and far between. In addition, a limited investment by the NNI on occupational exposure research can only increase dangers to workers.

"The truth is that while the NEHI made significant strides in this latest effort to present an improved nanotechnology risk research strategy, only about five of the more than 240 identified risk research projects focus on exposure assessment — which directly affects workers. These are the people who are on the front line and most likely to be exposed to potentially hazardous nanomaterials," said David Rejeski, PEN director.

"The document also fails to employ a 'top-down,' strategic approach aimed at directing funds and research at the places where there's likely to be the most risk," according to Rejeski. "The NEHI structure and plan are still broken. The plan is a collection of individual agency research programs and not a strategic approach appropriate to a technology projected to be incorporated into $2.6 trillion worth of products by 2014."

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