Highlights of Recent Research on the Environmental, Health, and Safety Implications of Engineered Nanomaterials

Date Published
Nanotechnology involves harnessing the unique properties of materials at the nanoscale to enable innovation. Nanotechnology has an established role in fields as diverse as electronics, energy, environmental remediation, and medicine. Addressing potential nanotechnology-related environmental, health, and safety (nanoEHS) issues is essential to the safe and responsible development of nanomaterials and nanotechnology-enabled products—a key goal of the U.S. Government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) [1]. While considerable progress has been made in characterizing the potential risk posed by engineered nanomaterials (ENMs), research and development of products and devices containing nanomaterials (nanotechnology-enabled products, or NEPs) continues at a rapid and accelerating pace. The evolving applications of nanotechnology require continuously refining and advancing ways to detect, measure, and assess ENM behavior in settings that reflect realistic workplace, consumer, and environmental exposures in order to develop effective management strategies. Furthermore, by ensuring that a robust scientific framework is available for evaluating nanomaterial applications, nanoEHS research promotes productivity in advanced materials and manufacturing.
Well-coordinated nanoEHS research is thus essential to establishing the public confidence and regulatory certainty needed for the commercial success of NEPs. The NNI’s nanoEHS activities are coordinated through the Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications (NEHI) Working Group of the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council, and by the NNI Coordinator for EHS Research. Including additional nanoEHS-related activities associated with the NNI Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives (www.nano.gov/signatureinitiatives), the total NNI nanoEHS investment for fiscal year (FY) 2016 is estimated at approximately $150 million, accounting for about 10% of the overall NNI investment.
NNI agencies continue to be guided by the 2011 NNI EHS Research Strategy. The strategy aims to ensure responsible development of nanotechnology and identifies the following six core research categories:
  • Nanomaterial Measurement Infrastructure
  • Human Exposure Assessment
  • Human Health; Environment
  • Risk Assessment and Risk Management Methods and
  • Informatics and Modeling.

NNI agencies participating in NEHI have individually and collectively undertaken a range of activities to address the six research areas. These research categories support the goal of creating a comprehensive knowledge base for evaluating the potential risks of nanotechnology, and ultimately for enabling effective and broader risk management options where necessary. The following select examples represent important milestones and new knowledge gained from recent nanoEHS research, and updates the 2014 Progress Review on the 2011 EHS Research Strategy. This information is merely a small sample of NNI-supported research in the peer-reviewed literature and in publicly available agency documents.