took note of efforts to address concerns about worker health and safety, including regulatory and standards-setting activities, as well as the importance of communicating about and involving the public in discussions of ethical and social issues in the responsible development and use of nanotechnology.
Nanomaterials have unusual and useful properties. But their unique attributes make nanomaterials a double-edged sword: they can be tailored to yield special benefits but also can have unknown and possibly negative impacts, such as unexpected toxicological and environmental effects. The environmental, health, and safety implications of nanotechnology are of significant concern to and a topic of serious discussion by government agencies and commissions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the research community, industry, insurers, the media, and the public. A host of meetings and published reports have addressed EHS issues relating to nanotechnology, some of which are discussed below. EHS research published to date has provided some data indicating the potential for risks to laboratory animals exposed to nanomaterials and has shown that much more work is needed to assess the potential risks involved. Since much of what is learned as a result of EHS research will have a direct impact on R&D and manufacturing personnel who are initially exposed to nanomaterials, occupational health and safety risks, specifically in a workplace setting, must be considered.
The federal government has committed resources to address such societal dimensions of nanotechnology as responsible nanomanufacturing and human health and safety. In 2004, memos from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to federal agency heads reiterated this focus, noting that “agencies should support research on the various societal implications of the nascent technology” by placing “a high priority on research on human health and environmental issues … [and] cross-agency approaches.”3
According to the March 2005 supplement to the President’s FY 2006 Budget,4 $38.5 million was planned under the NNI for investment toward EHS R&D for FY 2006. In its role as the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) defined nanotechnology-related EHS R&D as “efforts whose primary purpose is to understand and address potential risks to health and to the environment posed by this technology. Potential risks encompass those resulting from human, animal, or environmental exposure