Reports suggest new safety procedures


A trio of new reports outlined safety procedures nanotechnology labs and companies are practicing now and what research nanotechnologists should investigate over the next 15 years to help alleviate concerns about its risks.

The first international survey of nanotechnology workplace safety practices, commissioned by the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON), collected data this summer from 64 organizations in North America, the European Union, Asia and Australia - from some 337 that were invited to participate. Roughly 80 percent of respondents were private sector companies.

The researchers, based at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found companies and labs are developing special programs and procedures for mitigating risks to workers and consumers - but they also noted that these nanotechnologists were often using conventional environmental, health and safety (EHS) practices when handling nanomaterials, even though they generally believed they might pose special risks for workers.

“Any time you establish a baseline of where progress is, it’s useful. It allows you to do an update analysis next year to see how things are trending. Maybe next year it’ll find dramatically more folks have different controls in place,” NanoBusiness Alliance executive director Sean Murdock said. “I do wish there was a level of segmentation in the report that distinguished between companies in the research stage and manufacturing stage.”

“Industry is working hard to collaborate on how best to work with nanomaterials,” in groups such as the Nanotechnology Occupational Safety & Health Consortium, which includes Intel, DuPont, Procter & Gamble, Dow Chemical, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and the U.K. Health & Safety Executive, said Senior Analyst Michael Holman at Lux Research.

In another recent EHS-related publication - a commentary appearing in the November 16 Nature - a group led by Andrew Maynard of the Woodrow Wilson Institute Project for Emerging Nanotechnologies developed a basic framework for research addressing nanotech risks.

The commentary pointed at completing five grand challenges over the next 15 years. These included the development of instruments to assess environmental exposure to nanomaterials, methods to evaluate the toxicity of nanomaterials, models for predicting the potential health and environmental impact of new, engineered nanomaterials, ways of evaluating the health and environmental impact of nanomaterials across their life cycle, and strategic programs to enable risk-focused research.

“It’s a useful summary of a lot of people’s thinking on research priorities,” Holman said. “A prominent piece like that is useful as a clear concise statement of what’s needed that everyone can point to, as a spur to public policy.”

It’s not the only one, either. ICF International of Fairfax, Va., released an analysis of the U.S. federal government’s efforts to research the human health and environmental consequences of nanotechnology.

In its report, ICF provides 14 specific policy recommendations built around three components. The first entails identifying the research that can inform priority risk management decisions. The second addresses research management and offers recommendations for the completion of timely and policy-relevant research. The third component focuses on how research results can be used to support sound risk management decisions.
- Charles Q. Choi