EPA Finalizes Nano-technology Research Strategy

Many readers of MassTortDefense have wondered about the potential future litigation risks associated with nanotechnology. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just finalized its new strategy to guide its research into how nanomaterials, used in a growing number of consumer products, might be studied for potential effects on human health and the environment. The Nanomaterial Research Strategy (NRS) describes the EPA's strategy for conducting and supporting research to understand the potential human health and ecological implications from exposure to manufactured nanomaterials, and how nanotechnology can be used sustainably in environmental protection applications.

EPA has written this document with three stated purposes:
(1) to guide its own researchers and managers as they conduct EPA’s research program,

(2) to assist scientists in other organizations and agencies as they plan research programs, and

(3) to inform the public of how EPA intends to generate scientific information to guide environmental decisions related to nanomaterials.

With the use of nanotechnology in the consumer and industrial sectors expected to increase
significantly in the future, nanotechnology offers society the promise of major benefits. The challenge for environmental protection is to ensure that, as nanomaterials are developed and used, unintended consequences of exposures to humans and ecosystems are prevented or minimized. In addition, knowledge concerning how to sustainably apply nanotechnology to detect, monitor, prevent, control, and clean up pollution is needed, says the NRS.

The strategy builds on the work of the Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications
Working Group (NSTC, 2008), and in the EPA’s Nanotechnology White Paper (EPA, 2007).

EPA’s strategy focuses on four areas:

􀂃 Identifying sources, fate, transport, and exposure
􀂃 Understanding human health and ecological effects to inform risk assessments and test methods
􀂃 Developing risk assessment approaches
􀂃 Preventing and mitigating risks
 

The key science questions described in the strategy document are intended to help decision makers answer the following questions:
􀂃 What nanomaterials, in what forms, are most likely to result in environmental exposure?
􀂃 What particular nanomaterial properties may raise toxicity concerns?
􀂃 Are nanomaterials with these properties likely to be present in environmental media or biological
systems at concentrations of concern, and what does this mean for risk?
􀂃 If we think that the answer to the previous question is “yes,” can we change properties or mitigate
exposure?

Readers of MassTortDefense know that nanotechnology is the process of manipulating materials 1 million times smaller than a millimeter. Nanomaterials, lighter and stronger than other materials, are used in hundreds of products already on the market, including many cosmetics and skin care products.  We have posted on this topic before.  Materials can take on new properties at the nano level, becoming stronger, better conductors of heat or electricity, for example.

The EPA's own office of research development is focusing its research on seven manufactured nanomaterial types: single-walled carbon nanotubes, multiwalled carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, cerium oxide, sliver, titanium dioxide and zero-valent iron. Carbon nanotubes are used in vehicles, sports equipment and electronics, while titanium dioxide is used in paints, cosmetics and sunscreens, as reported by EPA.  The Agency is also part of the government-wide National Nanotechnology Initiative.

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