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Implications of Nanotechnology for Environmental Health Research
update their risk assessment methodologies to create a multidisciplinary approach including industry; different levels of government; different types of researchers in chemistry, physics, and biology; and research regulatory scientists.
THE RIGHT TIME TO PLAN FOR NANOTECHNOLOGY
Today, we are at the optimal time to begin to study the impact of nanomaterials on human health, said Vicki Colvin of Rice University. We are looking at the birth of a new industry and beginning to address risk in a way that has not been done with any other developing technologies before, that is, well before large amounts of these materials are introduced into the environment or onto consumers. That provides us a unique opportunity to shape a new, emerging area with a lot of knowledge about environmental health issues that we would ultimately face and avoid the problems that have plagued chemistry in the past.
There is a need for increased levels of cooperation between the industries involved, public interest groups, and government parties to find economically viable solutions while still protecting the environment and health, asserted John Balbus, Environmental Defense. This is not a small goal, as it is important that nanotechnology development is done right the first time. Modern history has produced a number of technological advances that had such great promise for revolutionizing society; however, Balbus noted that these advances sometimes occurred at the expense of safety. For nanotechnology, the question is how does the science move forward in a way that best protects the public and gets health and safety right the first time. David Rejeski of Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars echoed many of these ideas and suggested that unlike genetically modified organisms where only a segregated sector is involved and risk prevention is more manageable, the impacts of nanotechnology will not be confined to one sector, but will be seen across multiple sectors and multiple products. He further suggested that policy makers need to start thinking about voluntary agreements with industry on the responsible use of nanotechnology and push the development of more models that bring together universities, NGOs, and industry to develop principles and best practices. Finally, Balbus noted that the process for conducting research and determining policy directions needs to be an open process with opportunities for public comment.