Date:  Sept. 12, 2013





Report Finds Mixed Progress on Advancing a Research Agenda for Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Nanomaterials; Oversight by Single Agency Could Overcome Barriers to Implementation


WASHINGTON — While some progress has been made in advancing the nation's research agenda on the environmental, health, and safety aspects of engineered nanomaterials, little work has been done in implementing an integrated research strategy throughout the federal government, says a new congressionally requested report from the National Research Council.  The report suggests that progress could be accelerated if a single agency with sufficient management and budgetary authority was designated to direct environmental, health, and safety research efforts and ensure implementation of a coordinated plan among the federal agencies that make up the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).


The global market for nanotechnology is expected to exceed $3 trillion by 2015 and includes products that range from cosmetics to medical therapies to electronics.  The unique characteristics and behaviors of nanomaterials and uncertainties regarding how they interact with biologic systems have spurred research on their potential risks to human health and the environment.  However, despite an uptick in funding and peer-reviewed publication of research over the past decade, environmental, health, and safety research efforts are not keeping pace with the increasing and evolving applications of nanotechnology, and the potential effects of these materials on humans and ecosystems are still not fully understood.


A 2012 Research Council report presented a strategic approach for developing the research and scientific infrastructure needed to address the potential health and environmental risks of nanomaterials.  It identified four high-priority research areas: quantifying and characterizing the origins of nanomaterial releases; understanding processes that affect exposure and hazard; nanomaterial interactions in complex systems ranging from subcellular to ecosystems; and an adaptive research and knowledge infrastructure for accelerating progress and providing rapid feedback to advance research.  It also specified mechanisms important for implementation that include enhancing interagency coordination, providing for stakeholder engagement in the research strategy, conducting and communicating the results of research funded through public-private partnerships, and managing potential conflict of interest.


The committee that wrote the report developed a set of indicators in each category to serve as criteria for measuring progress.  The new report, prepared by the same committee, uses these indicators to evaluate the progress of recent research efforts in the United States and the European Union.  Given that the interval between the two reports was too short for substantial new research programs to be put in place and produce results, the committee instead examined trajectories of research and progress in developing the mechanisms needed to ensure effective implementation.  Each indicator was classified as "green" for new activities or expected sustained progress, "yellow" for moderate or mixed progress, or "red" for minimal activity and few anticipated changes.


The report classifies just one indicator as green -- development of methods for detecting, characterizing, tracking, and monitoring nanomaterial transformations in simple, well-characterized media, which falls under the objective for an adaptive research and knowledge infrastructure.  All other indicators for both research and implementation progress ranged from yellow to red.


In order to improve the level of progress and move the indicators toward green, the report offers specific actions and objectives for each research category.  But the committee reiterates a conclusion from the first report: Accountability for implementation of a research strategy is hampered by the absence of an entity with sufficient management and budgetary authority to direct research efforts governmentwide.  In addition, the committee maintains that NNI would benefit from a clearer separation of authority and accountability for its environmental, health, and safety research enterprise in relation to its mandate to promote nanotechnology development and commercialization.  Progress toward both of these indicators was classified as red.


The report concludes that more engaged and broadly reaching governance is needed for nanotechnology health and safety research.  An important function for the organization that oversees the research will be to secure and maintain a sustained funding commitment over at least the next decade.  The lead agency should also ensure that all stakeholders have access to a “knowledge commons” -- a collaborative environment for the development of methods, models, and materials and for the capture and dissemination of data.  An integrated and well-coordinated program on national and global scales would help ensure that research findings provide the evidence needed to inform decisions so that potential health and environmental risks can be effectively managed and prevented.       


The study was sponsored by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863.  The National Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.



Lauren Rugani, Media Relations Officer

Rachel Brody, Media Relations Associate

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Division on Earth and Life Studies

Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology


Committee to Develop a Research Strategy for Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nanomaterials

Jonathan M. Samet* (chair)

Professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair

Department of Preventive Medicine

Keck School of Medicine of USC, and


Institute for Global Health

University of Southern California

Los Angeles


Jurron Bradley


Clean Energy Market

BASF Corporation

Florham Park, N.J.


Seth Coe-Sullivan

Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer

QD Vision Inc.

Lexington, Mass.


Vicki L. Colvin

Professor of Chemistry and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Department of Chemistry

Rice University

Houston, TX


Edward D. Crandall

Kenneth T. Norris Chair in Medicine,

Hastings Professor of Medicine,

Chair Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

Department of Medicine

Keck School of Medicine

University of Southern California

Los Angeles


Richard A. Denison

Senior Scientist

Environmental Defense Fund

Washington, D.C.


William H. Farland

Vice President for Research

Colorado State University

Fort Collins, Colo.


Martin Fritts

Senior Principal Scientist

SAIC-Frederick Inc.

National Cancer Institute at Fredrick

Frederick, Md.


Philip K. Hopke

Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor

Institute for a Sustainable Environment

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Clarkson University

Potsdam, N.Y.


James E. Hutchison

Lokey-Harrington Professor of Chemistry, and

Associate Vice President

Research and Strategic Initiatives

Department of Chemistry

University of Oregon

Eugene, Ore.


Rebecca D. Klaper

Shaw Associate Professor

School of Freshwater Sciences

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


Gregory V. Lowry


Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Carnegie Mellon University



Andrew D. Maynard


Risk Science Center

School of Public Health

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Mich.


Gunter Oberdörster

Professor of Toxicology

Department of Environmental Medicine

University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Rochester, N.Y.


Kathleen M. Rest

Executive Director

Union of Concerned Scientists

Cambridge, Mass.


Mark J. Utell

Professor of Medicine and Environmental Medicine

Departments of Medicine and Environmental Medicine

Pulmonary and Critical Care Division

University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Rochester, N.Y.


David B. Warheit

Research Fellow
E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.
DuPont Haskell Laboratory
Newark, Del.


Mark R. Wiesner

James L. Meriam Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Pratt School of Engineering
Nicholas School of Environment and Earth Sciences
Duke University
Durham, N.C.




Eileen Abt

Project Director



* Member, Institute of Medicine