Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Categories Identified by the National Nanotechnology Initiative
generally agreed that the five categories are logical, complete, and appropriately weighted in scope. The five categories align with the missions and research programs established within and across the regulatory and research agencies that participate in the NEHI Working Group. They provide an excellent organizational framework for describing research activities. Some committee members questioned the position of risk assessment in the document—whether it should be elevated into a separate category or left as an integrating research theme—and this was the subject of some debate. Otherwise, the committee concluded that the basic topics spanned the diverse and complex space of this problem and provided a good organization for the listing of research needs.
The committee found that, with some exceptions, the specific research needs within each category were appropriate for nanotechnology EHS research. The research needs identified substantial aims important for the given research category. However, the committee believed that the lists were incomplete, in some cases missing elements crucial for progress in understanding the EHS implications of nanomaterials or not recognizing common research threads across research categories. For example, the issue of environmental exposure received insufficient emphasis in the exposure-assessment discussion although it was addressed in the nanomaterials in the environment section. The potential for nanomaterials to undergo change within biologic matrices is a common research theme that should be addressed in discussions of nanomaterials and the environment; nanomaterials and human health; and instrumentation, metrology, and analytical methods. Characterization of chemical and biologic reactivity of nanoparticles was not included as a research need in the report. Often, as will become clear, the missing research pieces would have been at an interface between categories, and their absence could have resulted from confusion about where to place them. For example, is environmental exposure a problem best tackled by researchers focused on environmental impact or by those looking at exposure assessment? Missing research needs are detailed in the appropriate sections of the topical reviews that follow.