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October 20, 2011

NNI Releases 2011 EHS Research Strategy

Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

On October 20, 2011, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) released its 2011 Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Strategy (Strategy), which is intended to provide guidance to the federal agencies that produce scientific information for risk management, regulatory decision-making, product use, research planning, and public outreach. The Strategy lists the following core research areas providing this information: (1) nanomaterial measurement infrastructure; (2) human exposure assessment; (3) human health; (4) environment; (5) risk assessment and risk management methods; and (6) informatics and modeling. The Strategy also considers the ethical, legal, and societal implications (ELSI) of nanotechnology. NNI held a webinar on October 20, 2011, to announce the release of the Strategy, and Lynn L. Bergeson served on the panel. The Strategy, fact sheet, and brochure are available online. NNI will post the webinar and panelist materials online within the next 48 hours.

The 2011 Strategy updates NNI’s 2008 EHS Research Strategy. 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’s Committee on Technology developed the 2011 Strategy, incorporating stakeholder comments received during four public workshops and submitted on the draft Strategy. The chapters on informatics and modeling in organizing and expanding the knowledge base, and promoting timely and effective achievement of strategic NNI EHS goals are new to the 2011 Strategy.

The NEHI Working Group identified the following key principles intended to help agencies make strategic decisions about their research programs:

  • Prioritize nanomaterials for research: The NEHI Working Group developed research-focused criteria to identify and prioritize engineered nanomaterials (ENM) and nanotechnology-enabled products (NEP) that may pose a plausible risk to human health and the environment. These criteria include the risk assessment concepts of the potential for hazard and the likelihood of exposure, and ENM-related properties such as high surface reactivity and biological novelty.
  • Establish standard measurements, terminology, and nomenclature: Standardized measurements ensure the accuracy, precision, and reproducibility of research results and, thus, provide a trustworthy knowledge base for evaluating and understanding exposure and hazards to humans and the environment. Standard terminology and nomenclature are vital to characterize and categorize ENMs.
  • Maximize data quality: The NEHI agencies recognize the complexity of experimental design and execution of nano EHS research. Criteria for physico-chemical categorization of ENMs and establishment of reliable and reproducible assays, methods, and alternative test methods are critical for the production of the highest quality data.
  • Stratify knowledge for risk assessment: Depending upon the decision-making context, a qualitative or quantitative risk assessment may be performed. These two types of risk assessment require different data sets to achieve their respective knowledge thresholds and support the development of tiered risk management tools.
  • Partner to achieve NNI EHS research goals: The NNI agencies recognize the importance of public-private partnerships with industries, non-governmental organizations, and universities to develop the data for nano EHS knowledge thresholds.
  • Engage internationally: The societal challenges for which nanotechnology may provide solutions are global, and, as such, provide opportunities for transparent, inclusive, and international collaboration. International engagement is a priority of the NNI and a critical component of the Strategy.

The Strategy will be implemented through programs and investment decisions by the individual agencies, as well as in coordinated interagency activities. NNI notes that, because agencies have different missions, and their individual priorities may differ in scope and focus, continuous coordination is essential. NNI states that agencies will work through the NSET Subcommittee, its NEHI Working Group, and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, which provides technical and administrative support to the Subcommittee and the Working Group, to ensure the integration of agency implementation plans.