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February 25, 2016

OECD Claims Urgent Research Needed into Risks from Nanomaterials in Household Waste

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

According to a February 22, 2016, press release from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an OECD report states that “[u]rgent research is needed to assess the possible risks to human health and ecosystems from the ever-increasing amounts of engineered nanomaterials going into household waste and ending up in the environment.”  The OECD report, Nanomaterials in Waste Streams:  Current Knowledge on Risks and Impacts, states that engineered nanomaterials are entering landfill sites, incinerators, and wastewater treatment facilities that are not designed to filter out particles as tiny as a millionth of a millimeter in size.  Nanoparticles thus end up in sewerage sludge used as agricultural fertilizer and in sewage plant effluent that flows into rivers and lakes, as well as in recycled goods.  While state-of-the-art waste treatment plants may collect a large share of nanomaterials from waste, according to the report, less efficient processes “mean a significant amount is likely released into the environment as exhaust gas from incineration, as ash applied on roads, as treated wastewater or leaches into soil and water sediment.”  The report calls for research into the type and amount of nanomaterials entering waste streams, what happens to it inside treatment facilities, and the potential impacts of residual waste containing nanomaterials.  It recommends greater safety measures for workers at recycling facilities.