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

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid