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August 21, 2007

EHS Research Priorities Released for Comment

Lynn L. Bergeson

On August 16, 2007, the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), on behalf of the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee of the Committee on Technology, National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of a document entitled The Prioritization of Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Needs for Engineered Nanoscale Materials: An Interim Document for Public Comment, which assigns priority to research needs and areas identified in the NSET Subcommittee document Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Needs for Engineered Nanoscale Materials, which was published on September 21, 2006.  Comments are due September 17, 2007.

The document identifies 25 priority research needs across five research categories.  The needs are listed from highest to lowest priority for each category, with the exception of those presented in the category Nanomaterials and Human Health.  The Nanomaterials and Human Health Task Force gave equal weight to identified research needs under an overarching research priority for the category.

Research Category:  Instrumentation, Metrology, and Analytical Methods

  1. Develop methods to detect nanomaterials in biological matrices, the environment, and the workplace.
  2. Understand how chemical and physical modifications affect the properties of nanomaterials.
  3. Develop methods for standardizing assessment of particle size, size distribution, shape, structure, and surface area.
  4. Develop certified reference materials for chemical and physical characterization of nanomaterials.
  5. Develop methods to characterize a nanomaterial’s spatio-chemical composition, purity, and heterogeneity.

Research Category:  Nanomaterials and Human Health

Overarching Research Priority:  Understand generalizable characteristics of nanomaterials in relation to toxicity in biological systems.

Broad Research Needs:

  • Develop methods to quantify and characterize exposure to nanomaterials and characterize nanomaterials in biological matrices.
  • Understand the absorption and transport of nanomaterials throughout the human body.
  • Establish the relationship between the properties of nanomaterials and uptake via the respiratory or digestive tracts or through the eyes or skin, and assess body burden.
  • Determine the mechanisms of interaction between nanomaterials and the body at the molecular, cellular, and tissular levels.
  • Identify or develop appropriate in vitro and in vivo assays/models to predict in vivo human responses to nanomaterials exposure.

Research Category:  Nanomaterials and the Environment

  1. Understand the effects of engineered nanomaterials in individuals of a species and the applicability of testing schemes to measure effects.
  2. Understand environmental exposures through identification of principle sources of exposure and exposure routes.
  3. Evaluate abiotic and ecosystem-wide effects.
  4. Determine factors affecting the environmental transport of nanomaterials.
  5. Understand the transformation of nanomaterials under different environmental conditions.

Research Category:  Health and Environmental Exposure Assessment

  1. Characterize exposures among workers.
  2. Identify population groups and environments exposed to engineered nanoscale materials.
  3. Characterize exposure to the general population from industrial processes and industrial and consumer products containing nanomaterials.
  4. Characterize health of exposed populations and environments.
  5. Understand workplace processes and factors that determine exposure to nanomaterials.

Research Category:  Risk Management Methods

Overarching Research Priority:  Evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of current and emerging risk management approaches for identifying those nanomaterials with the greatest potential risks.

Broad Research Needs:

  1. Understand and develop best workplace practices, processes, and environmental exposure controls.
  2. Examine product or material life cycle to inform risk reduction decisions.
  3. Develop risk characterization information to determine and classify nanomaterials based on physical or chemical properties.
  4. Develop nanomaterial-use and safety-incident trend information to help focus risk management efforts.
  5. Develop specific risk communication approaches and materials.