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March 1st, 2005

Development of nanotechnologies

Ann P. Dowling, University of Cambridge

This article summarizes the key findings and recommendations of the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering Report on Nanotechnology. The report is enthusiastic about the great potential benefits of nanotechnologies. Uncertainties associated with the health and environmental impacts of free, manufactured nanoparticles and nanotubes are discussed. It recommends research to understand better their toxicology and exposure pathways, and actions to restrict exposure of humans and the environment to free, manufactured nanoparticles and nanotubes until they are better understood. The need for public dialogue about the development of nanotechnologies is highlighted.

Nanoscience and nanotechnologies offer great opportunities. Almost all nanotechnologies pose no new risks to heath or the environment. However, we have concerns about manufactured nanoparticles and nanotubes that are in a form where they are free to interact with humans or the environment.

We have recommended a program of research to address uncertainties about their impacts, and regulations to limit exposure to them. We have also recommended that the UK Government initiate a properly funded public debate around the development of nanotechnologies now, so that it can inform key decisions about their development.

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