Date:  Jan. 25, 2012



Health and Environmental Effects of Nanomaterials Remain Uncertain;

Cohesive Research Plan Needed to Help Avoid Potential Risks From Rapidly Evolving Technology


WASHINGTON — Despite extensive investment in nanotechnology and increasing commercialization over the last decade, insufficient understanding remains about the environmental, health, and safety aspects of nanomaterials.  Without a coordinated research plan to help guide efforts to manage and avoid potential risks, the future of safe and sustainable nanotechnology is uncertain, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The report presents a strategic approach for developing research and a scientific infrastructure needed to address potential health and environmental risks of nanomaterials.  Its effective implementation would require sufficient management and budgetary authority to direct research across federal agencies.   


Nanoscale engineering manipulates materials at the molecular level to create structures with unique and useful properties -- materials that are both very strong and very light, for example.  Many of the products containing nanomaterials on the market now are for skin care and cosmetics, but nanomaterials are also increasingly being used in products ranging from medical therapies to food additives to electronics.  In 2009, developers generated $1 billion from the sale of nanomaterials, and the market for products that rely on these materials is expected to grow to $3 trillion by 2015. 


The committee that wrote the report found that over the last seven years there has been considerable effort internationally to identify research needs for the development and safe use of nanotechnology, including those of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which coordinates U.S. federal investments in nanoscale research and development.  However, there has not been sufficient linkage between research and research findings and the creation of strategies to prevent and manage any risks.  For instance, little progress has been made on the effects of ingested nanomaterials on human health and other potential health and environmental effects of complex nanomaterials that are expected to enter the market over the next decade.  Therefore, there is the need for a research strategy that is independent of any one stakeholder group, has human and environmental health as its primary focus, builds on past efforts, and is flexible in anticipating and adjusting to emerging challenges, the committee said.


Because the number of products containing nanoscale materials is expected to explode, and future exposure scenarios may not resemble those of today, selecting target materials to study on the basis of existing market size -- as is the practice now -- is problematic.  To help guide research, the committee noted the following four research categories, which should be addressed within five years:


·         identify and quantify the nanomaterials being released and the populations and environments being exposed;

·         understand processes that affect both potential hazards and exposure;

·         examine nanomaterial interactions in complex systems ranging from subcellular to ecosystems; and

·         support an adaptive research and knowledge infrastructure for accelerating progress and providing rapid feedback to advance research.


While surveying the existing resources for research, the committee acknowledged a gap between funding and the level of activity required to support the committee's strategy.  The committee concluded that any reduction in the current funding level of approximately $120 million per year over the next five years for health and environmental risk research by federal agencies would be a setback to nanomaterials risk research.  Moreover, additional modest resources from public, private, and international initiatives are needed in critical areas -- informatics, nanomaterial characterization, benchmarking nanomaterials, characterization of sources, and development of networks for supporting collaborative research -- to derive maximum strategic value from the research investments.


Implementation of the strategy should also include the integration of domestic and international participants involved in nanotechnology-related research, including the NNI, federal agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and the academic community.  The committee said that the current structure of the NNI -- which has only coordinating functions across federal agencies and no top-down budgetary or management authority to direct nanotechnology-related environmental, health, and safety research -- hinders its accountability for effective implementation.  In addition, there is concern that dual and potentially conflicting roles of the NNI, such as developing and promoting nanotechnology while identifying and mitigating risks that arise from its use, impede application and evaluation of health and environmental risk research.  To carry out the research strategy effectively, a clear separation of management and budgetary authority and accountability between promoting nanotechnology and assessing potential environmental and safety risks is essential.


The study was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter.  Panel members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies' conflict-of-interest standards.  The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.




Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer

Shaquanna Shields, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail


Additional resources:

Project Website



Pre-publication copies of A Research Strategy for Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nanomaterials are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


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Division on Earth and Life Studies

Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology


Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology


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, and


Institute for Global Health

University of Southern California

Los Angeles


Tina Bahadori

Managing Director

Long-Range Research Initiative

American Chemistry Council

Washington, D.C.


Jurron Bradley

Clean Energy Market Manager

BASF Corp.

Florham Park, N.J.


Seth Coe-Sullivan

Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer

QD Vision Inc.

Watertown, Mass.


Vicki L. Colvin

Vice Provost for Research, and

Professor of Chemistry and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Rice University



Edward D. Crandall

Kenneth T. Norris Chair in Medicine;

Hastings Professor of Medicine; and


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

Senior Vice President for Research, and


Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences

Colorado State University

Fort Collins


Martin Fritts

Senior Prinicipal Scientist

SAIC-Frederick Inc.

Frederick, Md.


Philip K. Hopke

Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and


Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science

Clarkson University

Potsdam, N.Y.


James E. Hutchison

Lokey-Harrington Professor of Chemistry

University of Oregon



Rebecca D. Klaper

Associate Professor

School of Freshwater Sciences

University of Wisconsin



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


Gunter Oberdorster

Professor of Toxicology

Department of Environmental Medicine

School of Medicine and Dentistry

University of Rochester

Rochester, N.Y.


Kathleen M. Rest

Executive Director

Union of Concerned Scientists

Cambridge, Mass.


Mark J. Utell

Professor of Medicine and Environmental Medicine, and


Occupational and Environmental Medicine

School of Medicine and Dentistry

University of Rochester

Rochester, N.Y.


David B. Warheit

Research Fellow

Haskell Laboratory

E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.

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

Study Director