Nano industry requests cash for safety studies


Nanotech sector leaders and analysts recently called for more funding for research into the environmental, health and safety (EHS) impact of nanotechnology and one group released an inventory of existing EHS efforts.

At a hearing in November in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. House Committee on Science, witnesses from within industry, market analysis and policy research organizations and an environmental group said the funds currently allocated for such research are insufficient.

Clayton Teague, director of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and a witness at the hearing, said the government has allocated $39 million in such funding in 2006. The testimonies of the other witnesses covered a wide range of issues but found common ground in the call for additional funding for research into the environmental and safety aspects.

Witnesses Matthew Nordan, vice president of research at Lux Research, and David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, argued that the government should be more proactive in addressing the risks of nanotechnology - in particular, nanomaterials - so that the public can be accurately informed about both the potential risks and rewards.

“Even if studies showed every commercially relevant nanoparticle to be harmless in every real-world usage scenario, public skepticism about the safety of nanoparticles could still build and sharply limit the use of nanoparticles in products,” Nordan said in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, shortly after the hearing, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Wilson Center unveiled an inventory of research into nanotechnology’s potential environmental, human health and safety effects.

The center says its inventory shows a need for more resources, for a coherent risk-related research strategy, and for public-private partnerships and international EHS research collaborations. The inventory identifies about $27 million currently being spent by the U.S. government on EHS, though the center acknowledges the inventory is not comprehensive.

Wilson center scientists said particular areas needing support include investigating workplace safety issues like the risk of explosion in production of nanopowders. They also said that virtually none of the research deals with future generations of nanomaterials; and that little funding is allocated to explore possible links between exposure to nanomaterials and diseases of the lung, heart or skin.
- David Forman

Accelrys Inc., a San Diego maker of scientific modeling software, announced the launch of the Accelrys NanoBiology Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to accelerate the development of computational modeling and informatics software that will enable scientists and engineers to apply nanotechnology to key areas of biological research, including diagnostics, biosensing, drug delivery and biomaterial design. By fostering collaboration between scientists and engineers and bridging the gap between materials science and life science, the company says the new initiative will aim to enhance nanobiology R&D, extending the use of nanotechnology into new areas of research. A scientific advisory committee will be chaired by Leroy Hood, president and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology and a leading proponent of biological applications of nanotechnology.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) announced it has begun work on a new standard, “Standard Methods for the Characterization of Carbon Nanotubes Used as Additives in Bulk Materials.” Known as IEEE P1690, the standard is expected to be the first to define methods for testing carbon nanotube additives and how to report the resulting performance data. The IEEE said the standard would recommend instruments and procedures for validating nanotube purity, concentration, dispersion rate, agglomeration and other properties. In the area of purity, for instance, it will address the presence of non-carbon substances, such as metal catalysts and carbon-like molecules. It will give material suppliers a structure for providing data and offer guidance on proper levels for dispersion and agglomeration.