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New England Nano Event Addresses Environmental Health and Safety Topics

Written by: 
Jeff Morse, PhD

The New England Nanomanufacturing Summit 2010 (NENS 2010), held at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, MA June 22-24, showcased groundbreaking research in nanotechnology with a focus towards manufacturing and commercialization topics. The event was organized by the National Nanomanufacturing Network, the NSF Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing (CHM) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the NSF Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing (CHN) at Northeastern University, with partners University of Massachusetts Lowell and the University of New Hampshire, and included relevant research in the Northeast region as well as the national and international levels. The first day of NENS 2010 focused on Environmental Health and Safety issues associated with nanotechnology, providing presentations by leaders in the field from government, academic centers, industry consortia, and nonprofit organizations.

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Kristan Markey from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discussed the challenges of risk assessment and regulation of nanomaterials, and further described the EPA’s approach to interacting with industry regarding emerging nanomaterials which includes a pre-manufacture notice where companies voluntarily supply the EPA with information on properties of their specific materials under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA). Hilary Godwin from the University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (UC CEIN) at UCLA discussed prevention-based approaches to managing the risks of nanomaterials which advocated more effective linkage of hazards research to research on primary prevention and safer technological options, integrative approach to science and policy, innovative methods for analyzing cumulative and interactive effects, systems for monitoring the early warning of risks, and more comprehensive approach to analyzing and communicating potential hazards. Paul Schulte of the Center for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC/NIOSH) presented a progress report on protecting the health and safety of nanomaterial workers. In the presentation Schulte discussed the key elements in worker protection including hazard identification, exposure assessment, risk characterization, and ultimately risk management.

Michael Ellenbecker from the CHN at UMass Lowell presented an overview of nanoparticle safety issues including airborne and dermal exposure, nanoparticle  toxicity, controls, and best practices to follow when working with nanoparticles. Richard Vachet from the CHM at UMass Amherst presented research results on the environmental fate, transport and bioavailability of various nanomaterials. This work demonstrated that the specific impact of certain materials on cells, fish, and plants depended on the engineered surface properties of a specific nanomaterial. Shu-Feng Hsieh, a recent Ph.D. graduate of Prof. Dhimiter Bello's group at the CHN at UMass Lowell presented research results in developing screening methods to determine the toxicity of nanomaterials. From these results a path forward was outlined in which the physiochemical properties of nanomaterials could be linked to biological impacts. Patricia Holden from the UC CEIN at UCSB presented an overview of the UC CEIN’s goals and approaches, along with research results on the impact of various inorganic nanoparticles on various parts of the environment.

John Monica from Porterhouse LLC described the activities of the Nanosafety Consortium for Carbon, a consortium consisting of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and industrial users of carbon nanomaterials, with the purpose of conducting joint in vivo toxicity testing of a representative set of carbon nanomaterials in order to satisfy EPA regulatory requirements while alleviating commercialization bottlenecks. Research results on the assessment and control of nanoparticle exposure was present by Candace Tsai of the CHN at UMass Lowell in which the potential risk of exposure was discussed for several nanoparticle materials. The presentation further discussed the sampling and characterization of airborne particles along with key elements for controlling exposure. In a discussion of regulatory policy balancing societal benefits, Chris Bosso of the CHN at Northeastern University described the challenges facing regulators to realize the economic and societal benefits provided by nanotechnology while protecting the consumer and workers. Key to these challenges include fostering innovation while enabling intelligent oversight, and it was further noted that the U.S. is the global leader in investment in Nano EHS research. April Gu from the CHN at Northeastern University presented on the challenges of toxicity assessment and screening of engineered nanomaterials, and introduced the concept of genomics based toxicity assessment, or toxicogenomics, to feasibly evaluate the harmful effects of nanomaterials. In this research approach, real time gene expression techniques are used to yield concentration dependent and material specific profiles allowing the categorization and identification of nanomaterials. Furthermore, the resulting database of materials information can be incorporated into a risk assessment framework.

Modeling tools for environmental and economic uncertainties in nanomanufacturing were discussed in a presentation by Jackie Isaacs, the Associate Director of the CHN at Northeastern University. Presenting an overview of the thrust in responsible manufacturing at the CHN, Isaacs described the use of models to reduce uncertainty in risk assessment, providing several case studies on the life-cycle assessment of example consumer products enabled by nanomaterials. To close out the first day, Jo Anne Shatkin from CLF Ventures presented an investigation of the life-cycle risk analysis (LCRA) of nanomaterials contained in custom paints. Key benefits of early stage LCRA include supporting sustainable technology development, anticipating and efficiently managing risk, and enabling informed decision-making regarding regulatory and consumer protection concerns. The Nano-LCRA framework provides a potential screening tool to identify and prioritize health and environmental issues related to the manufacture of nanomaterials. In findings from a case study on paints containing nanomaterials, risk management focused on exposure prevention, with end of life exposure being the least controlled.

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