Fact Sheet: Environmental, Health, and Safety Research (2010)

The Obama Administration is committed to supporting significant research into the potential environmental, health, and safety (EHS) impacts of nanotechnology, an exciting field of research that has great scientific and economic potential because of its ability to create new materials with novel properties for application in such diverse fields as electronics and computing, alternative energy, and optics.

The Federal commitment to nanotechnology-related EHS research dates back to the inception of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the multi-agency framework created in 2001 to coordinate Federal nanotechnology research and development (R&D).

  • The U.S. is the global leader in nanotechnology-related EHS R&D spending. Between FY 2005 and FY 2009 the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) will have invested $254 million in research whose primary function is to understand EHS issues.
  • By contrast, the EU and member states anticipate spending roughly $100 million (€79 million) through 2010 (current estimate, more projects may be added later over the next three years).    Estimates for Asian expenditures over the equivalent period are about $65 million—including China (roughly estimated at $17 million from 2005 to 2008) ii, Japan, S. Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan combined.
  • That means U.S. expenditures on nanotech-related environmental health and safety research exceeds that of all other countries in the world combined.
  • Federal research dedicated to nano-related EHS grew substantially from $35 million in FY 2005 to an estimated $117 million requested for FY 2011. This includes research investments for the first time at the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The cumulative EHS investment since 2005 totals more than $480 million.
  • In addition, the Federal Government funds many projects that are not “primarily” EHS-related but have significant EHS components. Among these projects are:
    • Research on instrumentation and metrology to correctly characterize the nanomaterials being used in EHS research and to monitor nanomaterials in the workplace and the environment.
    • Research on the potential usefulness of nanomaterials for either medical diagnostics or treatment of diseases, which includes related toxicological and other assessments of any potential harmful effects of such materials.
  • The U.S. also leads the world in publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals on nanotechnology-related EHS research—277 papers in 2008 compared to 243 for the EU and 63 for China.
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health promotes safety training for workers and has developed a proactive risk management system for nanotechnology companies. NIOSH conducts field studies to work with companies taking this approach
  • Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation established research centers at Duke University and UCLA to study the potential environmental impacts of nanotechnology.
  • The Food and Drug Administration has conducted studies and held public meetings to better understand the health and safety issues that may arise from the fledgling field of nanomedicine
  • The multi-agency National Nanotechnology Initiative has held technical workshops since 2003 and continues to do so this year. Workshops have focused on methods for detecting nanomaterials in biological materials, the environment and the workplace and understanding the effects of engineered nanomaterials in various species. Three workshops in 2010 explored research on human and environmental exposure and instrumentation, metrology, and analytical methods as they relate to nanoparticles in the environment and in human health. Another workshop set for March will explore risk management methods and ethical and societal dimensions of nanotechnology and integrate findings from the earlier workshops.


i EU nanotechnology R&D in the field of health and environmental impact of nanoparticles, European Commission report, January 28, 2008; http://cordis.europa.eu/nanotechnology/src/safety.htm
ii D. Kahaner, ATIP, “Data on nano-related EHS research funding in Asia” August 18, 2009

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Nanotechnology Fact

Nanoscale materials have been used for over a thousand years. For example, nanoscale gold was used in stained glass in Medieval Europe and nanotubes were found in blades of swords made in Damascus. However, ten centuries passed before high-powered microscopes were invented, allowing us to see things at the nanoscale and begin working with these materials.

Nanotechnology as we now know it began more than 30 years ago, when tools to image and measure at the nanoscale became available. Around the turn of the century, government research managers in the United States and other countries observed that physicists, biologists, chemists, electrical engineers, optical engineers, and materials scientists were working on interconnected, multidisciplinary issues emerging at the nanoscale. In 2000, the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was created to help these researchers benefit from each other’s insights, accelerate technology development, and foster commercialization across disciplines.

To learn more, see What is Nanotechnology?