Nanotechnology Project

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Environment, Health and Safety Research

Identifying and Regulating Environmental Impacts of Nanomaterials

Project Information

Principal InvestigatorNathan Swami
InstitutionUniversity of Virginia
Project URLView
Relevance to ImplicationsHigh
Class of NanomaterialEngineered Nanomaterials
Impact SectorEnvironment
Broad Research Categories Risk Assessment
Risk Management
NNI identifier

Funding Information

Anticipated Total Funding$130,000.00
Annual Funding$65,000.00
Funding SourceNSF
Funding MechanismExtramural
Funding SectorGovernment
Start Year2005
Anticipated End Year2007


This proposal was received in response to Nanoscale Science and Engineering initiative, NSF 04-043, category NER. This research falls under the area of, “Societal and Educational Implications of Advances on the Nanoscale.” Early studies on identifying environmental impacts and risks posed by nanomaterials are vital to focus the attention of stakeholders on real risks versus those unsubstantiated by scientific data. Prior attempts at formal environmental risk assessment on nanomaterials have been stymied by a paucity of toxicological data, thereby greatly hampering the field of environmental risk perception and its communication to the general public. A broad interdisciplinary approach is proposed here to identify environmental impacts and risks posed by nanomaterials through development of pertinent scenarios within their life cycle, from synthesis to manufacturing, application, and release into the environment and incorporation into an organism. This approach uses the context of the regulatory structure in a complementary manner with the fundamental science, technology and toxicity of engineered nanoparticles to develop scenarios for nanoparticle release and interaction with the environment. An array of standard methodologies such as life cycle approaches, hierarchical holographic models, and statistical methods will be applied to identify and possibly rank potential risks that may characterize the transport of anthropogenic nanoparticles within specialized environments. The scenarios will focus on nanomaterials currently manufactured in several tonnages per month capacities, such as endohedral metallo-fullerenes (Luna Nanomaterials, VA); carbon nanotubes (Carbon Nanotechnologies); and titania nanoparticles (Dupont). These scenarios will include assessment of how the current regulatory structure would deal with these emergent risks, and how that process might be improved. The proposed research is particularly significant and novel due to the following reasons: It uses the methodology of scenario development to quantify risk. In an early-stage field such as nanotechnology, which presents a wide variety of possible scenarios, the approach is novel and necessary to move the field ahead, especially since this approach is consistent with the availability of only limited toxicological data. Including the regulatory structure in the risk identification and ranking methodology, as a context to elevate or eliminate risks posed by nanotechnology, is novel and vital for widespread acceptance of nanotechnology. Combining local and global system-level impacts within the risk identification methodology is a necessary and bold approach. Finally, the approach includes environmental benefits within scenarios for the risk identification. Among its broader impacts, enabling scientifically informed trading zones that impact the general public (environmental and consumer groups), regulators (EPA, FDA, NIOSH), and businesses is a central objective of the proposed work. Educational and toxicity case studies that can advance regulation and public perception of nanotechnology are vital for technological advancement of this field. A graduate and an undergraduate student are centrally involved in the project.