Nanotechnology - the science that employs particles smaller than 1/1000th the diameter of a human hair - is an emerging industry.
Experts predict a $1 trillion market by 2015 with far ranging applications in energy, medicine, agriculture and manufacturing. Engineered nanomaterials are already used in sporting goods, tires, stain-resistant clothing, cosmetics and electronics.
Current understanding of the potential toxic effects of engineered nanomaterials is limited, according to an article published in the journal Science.
Lead author, UCLA professor of medicine Dr. Andre Nel, suggests adapting models that are used now to test for toxic nanoparticles in the air that result from the burning of fossil fuels or from dust particles in the workplace. "Those have led to significant pieces of research that can be applicable to engineered nanomaterials," he says, "perhaps not comprehensively, but perhaps as an introduction and start of this process."
Dr. Nel says more study to evaluate the safety of nanomaterials is needed as new products make their way into the market place, "to tell us if there is a toxic potential. If we do find any toxicity," he says, "I would like to see that we instigate safe manufacturing procedures, (and) that we also give consumer advice about the use of these materials and their disposal."
Currently, no government or industry regulations exist to evaluate nanotechnology. Dr. Nel stresses the importance of global cooperation to develop policies that can govern the safe use of engineered nanomaterials.