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

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    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.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora