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March 6th, 2008
Ever since manufacturers began using engineered nanomaterials in industrial processes and commercial products, some observers have raised concerns about the potential for these materials to be hazardous to human health or the environment. These worries prompted the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), the consortium of federal agencies that study or regulate nanomaterials, to devise a research strategy to answer questions about potential environmental, health, and safety (EHS) consequences of this new technology.
The latest report by NNI's Nanotechnology Environmental & Health Implications (NEHI) working group—established to monitor the federal research in the field and to set agency priorities—does just that. Although the report offers a more focused framework of research needs and priorities than have some past efforts, some in the field say the report overstates how much EHS research is going on, particularly when it comes to human exposure studies.
Clayton Teague, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, is more upbeat. "This research strategy is the result of a terrific team effort led by the NEHI working group," he says. "It reflects a strong consensus and commitment among the NNI member agencies on the roles they will assume to move the federal efforts in nanotechnology-related EHS research forward. The quality of the document demonstrates that the NNI is working hard to understand nano EHS issues in a systematic and coordinated fashion."
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