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Current Methods Adequate But Toxicity Data Lacking
Life cycle assessment(LCA) -- a cradle-to-grave look at the health and environmental
impact of a material, chemical, or product -- is an essential tool for ensuring the
safe, responsible, and sustainable commercialization of nanotechnology,
U.S. and European experts conclude in a new report issued today.
With the number of nanotechnology-enabled products entering the market
expected to grow dramatically -- from $30 billion in 2005 to $2.6 trillion
in global manufactured goods using nanotechnology by 2014 -- "numerous
uncertainties exist regarding possible impacts on the environment and human
health," the international authors observe in Nanotechnology and Life Cycle
Assessment: A Systems Approach to Nanotechnology and the Environment.
According to the report, wisely implemented assessment tools such as
LCA can help corporations and researchers determine likely environmental
impacts at various stages in a new nanotechnology product's life cycle. It
also enables governments, industry and consumers to compare the
environmental performance of a novel nanotech product with that of
conventional products already on the market.
Based on discussions among 27 international nanotechnology and LCA
experts at a two-day workshop held in October 2006, the report is being
simultaneously released by the European Commission (EC) and the Project on
Emerging Nanotechnologies, an initiative of the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The
workshop was organized by the Project in cooperation with the EC, with
assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of
Research & Development and International Society for Industrial Ecology.
Barbara Karn, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies visiting scientist, and
Maria Pilar Aguar, from the EC's Research Directorate-General (DG RTD),
planned and organized the workshop.
The report concludes that the existing International Organization for
Standardization (ISO) and other widely used frameworks for LCA are fully
applicable to nanomaterials and nanoproducts.
However, according to the report, the specificity of LCA results for
nanotechnology products will be limited by the "lack of data and
understanding" in areas central to the accurate assessment of the
environmental, human health, and safety effects of a particular
nanomaterial or process.
"The lack of toxicity data specific to nanomaterials is a repeating
theme in this and in other studies related to nanotech environmental,
health, and safety concerns," says Andrew Maynard, chief scientist for the
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. "Nanotechnology is no longer a
scientific curiosity. Its products are in the workplace, the environment,
and home. But if people are to realize nanotechnology's benefits -- in
electronics, medicine, sustainable energy, and better materials for
building, clothing and packaging -- the federal government needs an
effective risk research strategy and sufficient funding in agencies
responsible for oversight to do the job."
"The report calls for international cooperation and coordination --
among governments, university researchers, corporations, and consumer and
other groups -- to help address critical data needs," according to Project
visiting scientist Barbara Karn. "It also highlights the need for
nano-specific protocols and practical methodologies for toxicology studies,
fate and transport studies, and scaling approaches."
Despite incomplete information, according to the report, LCA can be
useful now, as long as uncertainties and data gaps are clearly stated.
Results can help to focus attention on high-priority products and issues
with the aim of eliminating critical unknowns and encouraging life-cycle
thinking during the first wave of nanotechnology innovation.
"It is important that nanotechnology, which has the potential to
improve the quality of life in all parts of the world, is developed in a
responsible way. This includes conducting the research and development
needed to take into account the impact of nanomaterials and products
throughout their whole life cycle," noted Renzo Tomellini, head of the
Nano- and Converging Sciences and Technologies Unit in the EC's DG RTD and
chair of the European Commission Interservice Group on Nanotechnology. "The
European Commission is committed to working together with international
partners to ensure that this critical work takes place. This report is a
useful step toward fulfilling that goal."
The report is available online at: http://www.nanotechproject.org and
About The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies
The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies is an initiative launched by
the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable
Trusts in 2005. It is dedicated to helping business, government and the
public anticipate and manage possible health and environmental implications
of nanotechnology. For more information about the project, log on to
Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate and
manufacture things usually between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one
billionth of a meter; a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers wide.
For more information, please click here
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