In FY 2005, the combined investment by U.S. federal agencies in research on and development of EHS implications of nanotechnology was $34.8 million (NSET 2006). In FY 2012, the President’s budget request proposes $123.5 million— more than a threefold increase (NSET 2010). Worldwide publications addressing the EHS effects of ENMs have increased similarly, with 791 papers published in 2009 compared with 179 publications in 2005 (PCAST 2010).
In 2006, the NNI published the first U.S. interagency assessment of EHS research needs associated with ENMs, identifying 75 research needs in five broad categories (NEHI 2006). The needs were assigned priorities by the Nanotechnology Environmental Health Implications Working Group (NEHI 2007) and were incorporated into an interagency research strategy by NEHI in 2008 (NEHI 2008). Recently, NEHI published a draft update (NEHI 2010) of the interagency research strategy that responds to input from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a National Research Council review of the 2008 NEHI report (NRC 2009), and various stakeholder groups, including members of the public.1 Those documents and many similar and complementary assessments by government agencies, academic institutions, industry, and other stakeholders (see Table 1-1) have helped to direct where EHS research should be focused if ENMs are to be developed and used safely. Yet despite progress in the development of research needs and in the amount of research that is funded and conducted, developers, regulators, and consumers of nanotechnology-enabled products remain uncertain about the types and quantity of nanomaterials in commerce or in development, their possible applications, and the potential risks associated with them.
It is the disconnect between risk research and its relevance to and use in informed decision-making that prompts the question, How can research best be guided and conducted to ensure that the products of nanotechnology are developed as safely, responsibly, and beneficially as possible? That question is central to the charge to this committee.
The development and use of new materials cannot be separated from questions of potential risk. Understanding and addressing the EHS implications of ENMs is intricately entwined with their development.
Over the last few years, industries—ranging from electronics to energy, materials to medicine, and chemicals to clean technologies—have been using nanotechnology to develop breakthrough innovations for products. To respond to the many opportunities, a global network of large corporations, academic
1A final version of the strategy was published in October 2011 (NEHI 2011). Because the committee’s report had already gone to peer review, NEHI 2011 was not reviewed by this committee.