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NANO-SAFETY [08 October 2007]

A White Paper on NANO-SAFETY

Executive Summary:

Nanotechnology is becoming ubiquitous in consumer products. As its use continues to grow, so do concerns about its impact on both humans and the environment. Therefore, products are undergoing increased scrutiny, as in a recent case in which the incorporation of nanoparticles caused a German cleaning product to be removed from the market, or as another example, the concerns about the titanium oxide nanoparticles in sunscreen and the unknown effect on people. Also unknown are the effects of beneficial applications. While the potential benefits of the application of nanomaterials to treat and cure cancer offers hope to many seriously ill people, the long-term impact of nanomaterials on the human body is not completely known. Employing silver nanopar- ticles in wound dressings, promotes healing while reducing potential infections; but, these same nanoparticles could also destroy helpful bacteria in the environment if the particles are not properly handled.

Concerns like these frequently result in media reports that portray nanotechnology as a future curse rather than the beneficial technology that it has the potential to be. Because insufficient scientific information is not availa- ble to the public, reports like those mentioned above become the source of information. Since nanotechnology is relatively new, it is understandable that information is not widespread. Another reason for this lack of infor- mation is that the fundamental properties of nanomaterials are generally unknown. Investigations of the prop- erties need to be accomplished in a systematic manner and disseminated to as wide an audience as possible. However, a problem with determining the material properties is that there is a lack of equipment that can accu- rately investigate the material properties in the nano realm. Complicating the matter is a lack of standardized procedures for handling and employing the nanomaterials. The approach to developing the understanding of the behavior of materials in the nano requires a systematic plan to address the various elements of nanotech- nology.

This lack of knowledge about nanomaterials inhibits their application. The semiconductor industry at the July 2007 ITRS meeting indicated that one of the issues with future improvements in devices is the lack of knowledge about the properties of nanomaterials. The lack of knowledge also raises the specter of danger to people. The fundamental question is about safety to the people who handle it, to the people who use the products, and to the environment. This issue, NANO-SAFETY, needs to be addressed in a systematic approach to provide infor- mation needed to develop advanced applications employing nanomaterials in a safe and sure manner.

This white paper addresses four key areas for developing a NANO-SAFETY effort and identifies the key areas as: 1) nanomaterial properties; 2) the effect on humans and the environment; 3) the means of handling the mate- rials correctly; and, 4) the procedures that must be in place to minimize risk in applications. The scope of this effort is larger than any one organization is capable of handling. Therefore, the approach presented herein em- ploys a collaborative effort that includes universities, medical facilities, and industry. This collaboration in con- junction with various US governmental organizations can provide a leadership role in developing new applica- tions employing nanomaterials that will improve the overall quality of life for people and develop new jobs for the production of these products.

Copyright 2007, Walt Trybula & Texas State University

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