News / Science & Technology

Panel Urges Study of Nanomaterial Risks

Materials are engineered into many products

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Nanoparticles are really tiny manufactured objects, no bigger than a clump of atoms.  They are being engineered into materials with unique electrical, chemical and optical properties. They are used in a wide array of products from cosmetics and food additives to solar cells and medical devices.



But concerns are growing that almost nothing is known about the risks these materials might pose to human health or the environment. Now, a federal science panel is calling for a systematic review of the safety of nanotechnology.

The nano market is booming. In 2009 developers generated $1 billion from the sale of nanomaterials. The global  market for products that rely on these materials is expected to grow to $3 trillion by 2015.

Yet without a coordinated research plan to assess, manage and avoid risks to human health and the environment, the future of safe and sustainable nanotechnology is uncertain. That’s the conclusion of a new report by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

“What we think we need and what we speak to in this report is how would we develop ways to predict what materials might be hazardous?” says Jonathan Samet, who heads the Institute for Global Health at the University of Southern California and chaired the expert panel that wrote the report.

For example, little is known about the health effects of nanomaterials being absorbed, inhaled or ingested, or what happens when nanomaterials escape into the environment.  Samet says steps must be taken in the short-term to answer these questions, especially as new and more complex nanomaterials are engineered.

For example, understanding how materials might be released in the environment, what factors, what aspects of materials make them at potential to be released, to understand how materials actually interact with biological systems, whether it is a cell or an ecosystem.

The report sets out a five-year research plan to accomplish this agenda, beginning with a set of steps that need to be taken immediately.

“These relate to testing the right testing strategies, to having materials so we can calibrate across assays, to having the informatics, the databases, to pull the information together," Samet says, "to getting scientists to work together and then finally to having the right sort of coordinating management structure within our government to most efficiently address the problem.”   

Public health and environmental activists have been calling for safeguards like these for years. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist working on health programs for the the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that compared to the huge commercial investments in research in development, spending for health and safety research lags far behind, even with key federal players like the Environmental Protection Agency.  

“The problem is that agencies like EPA just have too little budget and the agencies that are doing research and development and advancing nanotechnology are much stronger financially,” Sass says.

This week the NRDC filed the first-ever lawsuit to block the use of a nano chemical in a commercial product - specifically, antimicrobial "nanosilver" used in clothing, baby blankets and other textiles. Sass says the  EPA approved the chemical on the condition that safety data would be supplied over four years.

“And we don’t think that’s good enough. We think that these chemicals should not be in commercial products until they have been fully tested.”

Sass suggests consumers can fight back with their pocketbooks.  

“So consumers can avoid buying things that say they are colored with nanosilver or advertise that they have antimicrobial or germ-fighting properties in the clothing.  Nobody needs germ free clothing.”

The National Research Council report recommends replacing the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative that currently coordinates efforts across 25 government agencies, but has no authority over management, budget or research.

The committee also warns against cuts to the $120 million annual budget for nanotechnology health and safety research.  

Samet says the panel will monitor progress in beginning this new assessment of nanotechnology, and report back to the U.S. Congress in eighteen months.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid