Workshop Proceedings: Responsible Development of Nanotechnology
The Workshop on Responsible Development of Nanotechnology was held on March 24-25, 2005, in Washington, D.C., as part of this study to discuss the need for standards, guidelines, and strategies for ensuring the responsible development of nanotechnology. The presentations included information on NNI programs and the status of standards and guidelines for nanotechnology R&D, and some also identified areas in need of further planning and action.
SOCIETAL DIMENSIONS OF NANOTECHNOLOGY
E. Clayton Teague
National Nanotechnology Coordination Office
The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) has focused on the societal dimensions of nanotechnology since its inception. Even during the planning stages, federal investments were balanced to foster innovation in nanoscale science and technology while addressing environmental, health, and safety (EHS) implications. Other areas of interest include education-related activities, such as development of materials for schools, undergraduate programs, technical training, and public outreach; and broad societal implications of nanotechnology, including economic, workforce, ethical, and legal implications. The NNI has continued to make EHS
issues important by establishing societal dimensions as one of seven program component areas (PCAs).
The unique properties of nanoscale materials make focusing on the societal implications critical. For example, the characteristics of new nanostructures require full analysis and investigation. The chemical and physical properties of nanoscale gold clusters differ greatly from those of more macroscopic metallic forms. Materials at such dimensions show unusual quantum effects that can dominate surface and electronic properties. However, the unique properties of these materials are a double-edged sword: they can be tailored for beneficial properties but also have unknown consequences, such as new toxicological and environmental effects. NNI’s strategic plan identifies the importance of societal dimensions of nanotechnologies, and also focuses on responsible development of nanomanufacturing 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. Those memos noted 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.”
The result is that 11 federal agencies have allocated $38.5 million to R&D focused on the EHS implications of nanotechnology, and $42.6 million to R&D on ethical and legal issues and public communication. These funds represent 8 percent of all federal funds devoted to nanoscale materials and devices.
NNI is directly pursuing EHS initiatives on several fronts. First, NNI is encouraging agencies to develop data on the potential toxicity of nanomaterials. For example, in October 2003, the National Toxicology Program under the Department of Health and Human Services began to study the potential toxicological effects of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, single-walled carbon nanotubes, and quantum dots. NNI is further devoting $1 million to research on the toxicity of nanomaterials at such institutions as the University of Houston and the University of Rochester. The National Cancer Institute’s Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory has developed a characterization cascade for use in preclinical evaluations of nanomaterials intended for cancer therapeutics. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will fund research from a competitive solicitation that addresses potentially harmful aspects of nanomaterials, whether nanomaterials bioaccumulate, and whether they pose health and environmental risks. This research will also focus on the fate, transport, and transformation of nanoscale materials after they enter the body and the environment.
In 2004, NIOSH established the Nanotechnology Research Center (NTRC) to coordinate nanotechnology research across the Institute. NTRC’s mission is
“to provide national and world leadership for research into the application of nanoparticles and nanomaterials in occupational safety and health and the implications of nanoparticles and nanomaterials for work-related injury and illness.” In 2005, NIOSH published a Strategic Plan for nanotechnology research. The goals are to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses caused by nanoparticles and nanomaterials; apply nanotechnology products to prevent such injuries and illnesses; promote healthy workplaces through intervention, recommendations, and capacity building; and enhance global workplace safety through national and international collaborations.
In August 2003, NNI formed the Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications (NEHI) Working Group to coordinate federal programs and efforts among research and regulatory agencies. This group, which meets regularly, is fostering standards for nanotechnology and advancing the understanding of environmental implications and the impact on workers’ health. The group is also documenting practices recommended by NIOSH and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for working with such materials. NNI is further identifying specific R&D needed to improve regulatory decision making on nanotechnology, and helping regulatory agencies develop websites and position statements on the responsible use of these technologies. NNI also formed a Nanotechnology Public Engagement Group to develop approaches for communicating more effectively with the public.
NNI is also trying to promote multidisciplinary education related to nanoscale science and engineering, and to ensure that the nation’s labor force has the skills and knowledge to work with nanotechnology. NNI has also worked to ensure that all stakeholders can participate in public debate and decision making regarding nanotechnology. Toward this end, NNI not only maintains its own website but has also created websites and outreach activities at federally funded nanotechnology centers and Department of Energy user facilities.
NSF’s Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network was announced in October 2005. This award will support a national network of science museums, providing informal educational activities for schoolchildren as well as adults. NSF funding is also creating two Centers for Nanotechnology in Society, one at Arizona Statue University, and the other at University of California at Santa Barbara. Through a network of social scientists, economists, and nanotechnology researchers, each Center will address key issues regarding the societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology. The Centers will also formulate a long-term vision for addressing EHS concerns; collaborate with partners or affiliates on the responsible use of nanotechnology; involve a wide range of stakeholders; develop a clearinghouse for information on communicating about nanoscience and nanotechnology, and engage the public in meaningful dialogue.
NSF has further funded a Center for Learning and Teaching in Nanoscale Science and Engineering, which focuses on grades 7-12 and the undergraduate level. The Department of Defense (DOD) collaborates with NSF in the NSF-Navy Civilian Service Fellowship/Scholarship program. This program seeks students at the bachelors, masters, or doctoral level in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics who wish to commit a portion of their careers to serve at a Navy R&D center. The NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer is supporting the education, training, and career development of postdoctoral as well as mid-career investigators for multidisciplinary nano-oncology research.
NNI intends to perform R&D on environment, health, and safety in parallel with the discovery of new nanoscale materials and properties. NNI funding of EHS and societal issues has therefore grown substantially along with its investments in nanotechnology. Regulatory mechanisms for assessing and regulating environmental impact, workplace safety, and other health risks are being mobilized. Research at federal laboratories and in private industry and academia will help determine how nanotechnology-based materials may differ from conventional ones in their implications for public health and the environment.
Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology
As an NSF center of excellence on nanotechnology, the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology has focused on the challenge of communicating the risks of nanotechnology to the public. Interactions with the public have made the center keenly aware of the importance of standards and terminology in defining this emerging technology and developing it responsibly. For example, when it is burned, diesel fuel emits carbon ultrafine particles that are dangerous to human health. However, the properties of such particles differ from those of engineered nanomaterials, such as fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. Yet discussions with journalists have indicated that the distinctions were not initially clear to the public and required further attention from researchers to define nanomaterials precisely.
Classifying nanoscale particles and identifying relevant characteristics and properties are important steps in preventing generalizations about all matter at the nanoscale. Without distinct classifications, the public too often places all nanoscale particles and nanotechnologies under one giant umbrella. For example, researchers have accumulated data on the toxicology of waste particles such as those that result from burning diesel. However, nanoparticles manufactured for a specific use may
not carry the same risks. Without more accurate nomenclature, the public has no way of differentiating the impacts of incidental versus engineered materials.
Questions about nomenclature and standards affect the regulatory process directly. For example, buyers of carbon 60 now receive a Material Safety Data Sheet that labels elemental carbon and carbon black as “nuisance dust”—even though carbon 60 differs from those two substances. Like names for polymers, nomenclature for nanomaterials should indicate their surface type, as that information can shed light on how they interact with their environment.
Although industry consortia usually drive efforts to create products, nomenclature, and standards, the business case for a single investment in nanotechnology products is not yet compelling outside the electronics industry. Nanotechnology is still embryonic, and most companies don’t see where standards fit into their bottom line. A large fraction of participants in the development of terminology and standards will therefore come from academia.
The top level of terminology—that is, how best to divide nanomaterials between physics and chemistry—is the most controversial, so the need for multidisciplinary coordination in determining nomenclature is great. Although ANSI will coordinate and adjudicate this activity, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International has established the Committee E56 on Nanotechnology to actually create the standards for nanotechnology. ASTM has recruited researchers to write the documentation that informs the voluntary process for developing consensus on these standards. Subgroups have formed to author documentation on terminology and nomenclature, metrology, and EHS issues.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
NNI’s definition of nanotechnology has three aspects. First, it deals with materials with at least one dimension between 1 and 100 nm. Next, it includes materials whose properties change because of their size. Finally, nanotechnology involves the ability to create unique structures with fundamentally new building blocks of atomic and molecular clusters. The ultimate goal is the ability to assemble essentially anything from scratch.
Discussion of responsible development of nanotechnology is complex because it includes more than a single material or even class of materials, encompassing instead materials with a wide range of properties and products with many uses. Nanotechnology also encompasses a wide range of different industrial sectors, including but not limited to the automotive and chemical industries, pharmacology, medicine, communications, electronics, and information technologies. Consumer products, equipment for manufacturing nanomaterials and products,
and advanced instrumentation are already on the market. Nanotechnology is also converging with other technologies, such as biotechnology and information technology, to form even more powerful new scientific and industrial approaches.
First-generation nanoparticles—which include, for example, polymer fillers, ceramic particles, and nanoclays—are “passive,” in that they have a single function and are usually incorporated into other materials. Second-generation nanotechnologies are more active, smart, and multifunctional structures. The third generation—nanosystems, and, finally, systems of nanosystems—will appear over the next 5 to 10 years. These more advanced nanomaterials and products will include various assembly techniques, nanoscale architectures and networking, biomimetic materials, therapeutics, and targeted drug delivery.
Regulators of these technologies can take two approaches in protecting human health and the environment, based on their view of nanotechnology. One school of thought views nanotechnology as an inherently continuous extension of existing fields. If that is the case, the current regulatory system can keep up with development and adequately address the potential impacts of this new technology. Another school of thought believes that nanotechnology will prove revolutionary scientifically, industrially, and socially. In the latter case, regulators need to develop more nimble approaches to address these paradigm shifts. Which viewpoint is chosen will determine how regulators approach responsible research and development of nanotechnology.
NNI bears some obligation to ensure responsible development of nanotechnology because it oversees $1.2 billion in federal funding—2 to 3 percent of which is devoted to research on environmental, health, and safety implications. Industry is also a key source for researching the potential impacts of nanotechnology, as the field may account for a $1 trillion piece of the nation’s economic pie in 5 to 10 years.
Reflecting growing international dialog on responsible R&D on nanotechnology, many countries are focusing on both applications and implications for the environment and human health. as well as its socioeconomic and ethical implications. As evidence of this concern, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development proposed a special session on the impact of nanotechnology on chemical safety at the June 2005 meeting of the Chemicals Committee and the Working Party on Chemicals, Pesticides, and Biotechnology.
For its part, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating potential applications and implications of nanotechnology. The former includes sensing pollution, remediating hazardous waste, ensuring green manufacturing, and producing green energy. The latter includes life cycle assessment, toxicology, exposure, bioavailability, fate and transport in the environment, and bioaccumulation of nanomaterials.
Green nanotechnology offers the opportunity to manufacture materials atom by atom to produce less waste and pollution, to create lightweight, stronger products that use less energy and fewer materials in their manufacture, and to ensure better industrial controls to minimize pollution. Two examples include synthesizing nanotubes using microwaves to reduce energy use in their manufacture, and the use of molecular nanolithography for bottom-up assembly of nanoscale electronic devices. Nanotechnology also offers the opportunity to clean up hazardous waste. An example is remediating groundwater contaminated with trichloroethylene by using iron nanoparticles, which more easily move through the soil and are more reactive than larger particles due to their increased surface area.
EPA’s nanotechnology research program embraces six thrusts. These include building a community of researchers that work in both nanotechnology and the environment, institutionalizing nanotechnology within EPA’s mission, ensuring consideration of EHS concerns in other federally funded research programs, working with industry to ensure that it develops nanotechnology responsibly, providing international leadership in EHS, and providing education and outreach to the public. Overall, EPA sees itself as the conscience of NNI to make sure that EHS issues are considered in all NNI agencies’ research.
Research on nanotechnology has made huge strides within the past year. Nanoscale products have become a reality, nano-related green manufacturing is accelerating, and the research in toxicology of nanotechnology has become a familiar concept. Myriad professional societies are addressing EHS-related issues, and NNI’s EHS activities continue to grow. EPA sees its central goal as using nanotechnology to clean up existing environmental damage and prevent future damage, to ensure a sustainable future.
Motorola and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
The now infamous McKinsey report predicted that by 2000 only a million cell phones would be in use. That prediction vastly underestimated the market, because it did not recognize that today’s cell phones would contain as much horsepower as humanity used to go to the Moon in 1969. Silicon’s intrinsic properties have not changed. Rather, nanoscale features now enable cell phones to work faster at a given cost, and provide higher performance within the same physical dimensions and weight.
Given the revolutionary nature of nanotechnology, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) resolved to spearhead work on standards for characterizing the new technology, which could propel hundreds of electronics and photonics products. Specifically, IEEE has partnered with other standards-
developing organizations to develop certificates of compliance and standard operating procedures for high-volume manufacturing, to ensure reliable output, to protect workers, and to address environmental concerns.
IEEE first convened a workshop for representatives from industry, academia, and international laboratories to examine the kinds of standards needed for nanoscale materials, devices, and systems. IEEE then established a working group to draft standard methods for measuring the electrical properties of carbon nanotubes. The result is consensus-based standards—posted on the Web and circulated via the Internet—on how to electronically characterize carbon nanotubes. Because characterizing nanomaterials requires cross-disciplinary expertise, IEEE also worked with Semiconductor Materials and Equipment International (SEMI) and ASTM International to propose standards for the types and characteristics of nanoparticles, and nomenclature and terminology for nanotechnology.
Without such standards, researchers cannot duplicate experiments performed by others and confirm their results. Standards will ensure a seamless interface between silicon-based devices and nanoelectronics to provide interoperability between mature and revolutionary technologies. Interoperability standards enabled the creation and growth of industries such as Web services, storage networks, and cell phones. Standards are critical to enable industry to purchase well-characterized nanoparticles from different suppliers—start-up companies are already selling carbon nanotubes—and design early nanotechnology-based products that will likely interface with existing technologies.
BIOMEDICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL APPLICATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Senior Service Fellow, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
The responsible use of nanotechnology raises two key questions. Do the unique features of engineered nanomaterials lead to unique safety and health risks? How can we maximize the benefits of nanotechnology while minimizing the risks from unintended consequences?
Information on what exactly is different about these materials, and the significance of their structure, will prove key to answering these questions. Important structural elements that can affect the chemical and biological features of these
materials include their size, shape, surface area, and surface activity. In addition, physical properties, such as surface charge density and optical and magnetic phenomena, may be of importance.
Engineered nanomaterials, which potentially present new challenges for human health, have two attributes: they can enter the body, and their nanostructure can lead to specific biological activity. Such materials can include nanoparticles that can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, such as aerosols, powders, suspensions, and slurries, as well as materials that degrade during grinding, cutting, machining, or other occupational use. To address these risks responsibly, we need to understand several critical issues, including exposure routes, doses, and toxicity. Standard risk analysis requires characterizing these materials and exposures accurately, as well as conveying the resulting information to people who need it.
We are not starting with a blank slate in answering these questions. The field of occupational hygiene has matured considerably, and analysts have accumulated extensive information about how people respond to hazardous materials. We can extrapolate from such information—such as how a material’s surface area and activity influence the biological response to it—to investigate nanotechnology. For example, information on the inhalation hazard of insoluble aerosols with different surface chemistries can contribute to assessing new nanomaterials. Although nanotechnology may be revolutionary as well as evolutionary, we do have a starting point in dealing with risks.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is congressionally mandated to take the lead in investigating risks related to occupational safety and health. NIOSH has already focused significantly on three aspects of exposure to nanoparticles: what kind of research on risk is needed, which partnerships are essential to investigating such risks, and how best to communicate the resulting information. For example, the agency is tapping internationally recognized experts to characterize toxicity, exposures, and the impacts on human health of single-walled carbon nanotubes. The agency convened the first two international meetings on nanotechnology and occupational health to jump-start a global initiative drawing together people from different sectors to address these issues. NIOSH is also developing a website to broadcast information on nanotechnology and occupational health, including not only the toxicity and risk of engineered nanomaterials but also effective practices for working with them.
Occupational safety and health are key societal issues that require attention for the responsible development of nanotechnology. If workers are exposed to unconventional nanostructures on the job, we must address their impact to ensure safe workplaces. Existing knowledge provides a starting point for addressing these risks, and we can rely on evolutionary approaches in evaluating the health impacts of “simple nanomaterials.” However, nanotechnology challenges conventional
approaches, and we need to address the potential consequences and impacts of this technology—that is, those that are unconventional and unintended.
Proponents of nanotechnology predict that it will create many jobs. That means large numbers of people will be working with these materials. We must have a framework to address the occupational impacts of nanotechnology on human health.
Director, Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University
Professor of Chemistry, Rice University
A central question for toxicologists is how nanomaterials interact with biological materials. The chemical and physical composition and structure of engineered nanomaterials such as quantum dots are precisely defined. Most are highly pure and highly crystalline, with huge surface areas and a thick organic coating. These attributes, including size, play a critical role in the biological properties of these materials. However, testing their toxicity is challenging because such materials have various dimensions and properties, such as size, shape, and surface charge density.
This means that focusing on the toxicity of final nanoscale products will not work because there are too many parameters to control. Researchers must rethink their approach to evaluating the toxicity of these materials. This is especially critical because of their numerous medical applications, and the need to ensure public confidence in them.
For example, the features of engineered nano carbon 60—also known as fullerenes and carbon nanotubes—are very different from those of the aerosol nanoparticles used in many pulmonary studies of the toxicity of nanomaterials. Carbon 60 (C60) can be used in a broad range of products, including anti-aging cream. However, one of the biggest applications may be in fuel cells, in which C60 allows for more efficient electron transfer. The question then becomes: Does the toxicity of C60 resemble that of molecular systems or soot, or is the toxicity entirely different? It turns out that putting carbon into a cage gives it unusual chemical properties that lead to distinctive biological impacts.
To evaluate such effects, Dr. Colvin’s lab used in vitro experiments to examine the cytotoxicity of different forms of C60. That is, what dose kills half the cells in a 48-hour exposure? The investigators found that although C60 is chemically inert, its chemical and physical properties make it highly biologically active, and very toxic in cell culture, although they wouldn’t have predicted that result.
Why is that true? Small sizes lead to movement across cellular barriers, and
toxicologists don’t yet know the size cutoff above which such translocations do not occur. This produces high concentrations and strong interactions within cell membranes, generating free radicals and thus creating damage. Therefore, nanomaterials, designed to have very special chemical properties, can lead to adverse biological impacts.
Still, extrapolating to other nanomaterials is difficult. We could create thousands of dose-response curves for thousands of permutations of nanotubes. And toxicologists don’t yet know what final nanoscale products will take the form of and what properties they possess. Thus, obtaining voluminous toxicological data is less useful than understanding the fundamental correlations between specific features of nanomaterials and their biological properties.
Surfaces are the vehicle for making these correlations. If chemists change the surface chemistry of C60, they find that it can be virtually nontoxic. For example, the dose-response curves show that in a hydroxylated state, C60 is nontoxic up to the limits of solubility. However, when aggregated into dry powder, it is highly toxic. The material’s biological impact—and its toxicity—depend on its surface and coating as well as its other features such as impurity levels.
If we understand why a material is cytotoxic, we should be able to make it less reactive and knock out its toxicity by systematically breaking its carbon bonds and oxidizing it. Thus, if fullerenes are used in fuel cells, they should be oxidized before they are dumped into the environment. This would eliminate their cytotoxicity and adverse effects on aquatic systems.
The debate isn’t over whether nanomaterials are dangerous; some forms almost certainly are. At this early stage, we need to determine what strategies we can adopt to minimize these materials’ toxicological activities. That means toxicology and nanotechnology should not proceed under business as usual, with toxicology used as the gate at the end of the process. Instead, chemists making systematic changes in materials must work with people who can measure their biological effects. Tight collaboration between materials engineers, chemists, and toxicologists could provide the essential data that can enable us to engineer safer nanomaterials from the beginning.
One of NNI’s central challenges is to transform these multiple disciplines into a new one. To realize that goal, we need to recognize that the surfaces of nanomaterials have a more important impact than their composition in determining toxicity, and that toxicity can be turned on and off depending on surface coating. Forging any new discipline that combines two scientific languages is difficult. However, we must foster collaboration between particle toxicologists and nanotechnologists to provide the systematic information to ensure that the materials that drive the nanotechnology revolution are the safest we know how to make.
Toxicologist, DuPont Haskell Laboratory
The common perception is that nanoparticles (less than 100 nm) are always more toxic—in producing inflammation and fibrosis in the lungs of animals—than fine particles (100 nm to 3 microns) of similar composition. This notion is based on systematic studies of two types of particles: titanium dioxide and carbon black. (Diesel particles are also known to be toxic, but they have no nanoscale counterparts.)
Studies comparing the impact of nanoscale and fine particles on the lungs of rats can test this assumption. Researchers from Dr. Warheit’s lab worked with toxicologists at Rice University to study the impact on rat lungs of exposure (by instillation) to fine-sized titanium oxide particles and nanoscale titanium oxide rods and dots. The study, which included two different doses, found that all the instilled particles caused an inflammatory response after 24 hours, indicating that all were initially inflammogenic. However, after this initial response subsided, the nanoparticles proved to be no more toxic than the fine-scaled particles after 1 week, 1 month, and 3 months post exposure. This occurred despite the fact that the nanodots had surface areas nearly 30 times larger than surface area of the fine-scaled titanium oxide.
In another study, the researchers compared the effects of fine-sized and nanoscale quartz particles, or crystalline silica, as that material is known to be particularly toxic. The study hypothesized that the nanoparticles would be even more toxic than fine-sized particles of identical composition at similar doses (although this dogma usually applies to low-solubility materials that are less toxic than the quartz). The researchers initially found that the nanoscale quartz particles were less toxic than the fine-scale particles. However, when they repeated the study, they found that the smallest nanoscale particles were more toxic than the fine-sized particles.
Workers tend to experience metal-fume fever for 24-48 hours after continuous high-level exposures to zinc oxide. The researchers therefore studied the effects of inhaled fine-scale and nanoscale zinc oxide on rat lungs. This study found no difference in the impact of the two different sizes of particles after 1 and 3 hours.
Many particles used in commerce are coated, so workers and consumers would be exposed to them in that form. Thus, another study by the same researchers examined the impact of titanium oxide particles when coated with various formulas of alumina and amorphous silica. This study found that different coatings can modify the length of time over which titanium oxide remains toxic in the lung. This finding underscores the importance of surface coatings in determining the health effects of particles.
The researchers concluded that the health impacts of nanoparticles must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as health risk is a product of hazard plus exposure. The health effects of nanoparticles will reflect their number, shape, and composition (whether they are crystalline or amorphous); their surface area, charge, and composition; the method by which they are synthesized (gas or liquid phase), and whether they aggregate. If the chemistry of particles differs, their biological effects may also differ. However, it is wrong to assume that nanoparticles are always more toxic than their fine-scale counterparts.
ESTABLISHING STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES FOR RESPONSIBLE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The NNI–Chemical Industry Consultative Board for Advancing Nanotechnology (CBAN) formed in March 2004 to promote collaborative industry-government R&D. CBAN has produced the “Nanomaterials by Design Roadmap” and established several working groups. One working group—composed of representatives from industry, academia, and federal agencies—focuses on the R&D needed to evaluate environmental, health, and safety (EHS) issues, especially by companies that want to commercialize nanotechnology.
Such research is critical because we lack methods and data on how best to develop nanomaterials and understand their EHS implications. We need a plan for assessing those impacts, and a funding structure that assigns clear responsibility for doing so to specific groups. Without such a plan, researchers may work on individual pieces of the EHS picture but fail to answer fundamental questions.
As an important first step, the CBAN working group and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have spearheaded creation of a database of existing information on the health, safety, and environmental effects of nanotechnology. Rice University has agreed to assume responsibility for maintaining this database, as it expands from an initial 1,200 articles to more than 8,000, and to ensure Web-based access. This database can become a clearinghouse for new information on nanomaterials and the routes of human and environmental exposure as it becomes available.
The EHS working group recommends further R&D in three core areas: the toxicity of nanomaterials; techniques for measuring and detecting them; and approaches to protecting the people who work with them and ensuring overall industrial hygiene. Specific needs include determining the best metrics for assessing the toxicity of nanoparticles, to ensure that the results are comparable; and
developing a testing strategy, to ensure that we are investigating the materials that people will actually be exposed to.
Although we should use caution in generalizing about the toxicity of nanomaterials, we cannot measure the EHS effects of thousands of individual particles. Thus we also need to select representative nanomaterials for testing. We further need a preliminary hazard assessment tool that can shed more light on exposure through inhalation, absorption via the skin, and oral ingestion, and compare the health and safety impacts to those of macroscale particles. For example, will the use of nanoscale iron to remediate contaminated groundwater risk exposing people through inhalation? Specific areas of research include determining the major factors that cause pulmonary toxicity, and weighing the health effects of inhaled particles on the brain.
We need to determine whether we can apply techniques for measuring bulk materials to nanomaterials, including whether electron beams, microscopy, and spectroscopy have nanoscale resolution. We also need to develop and verify tools for collecting and measuring samples of nanoparticles from soil, water, and air, to facilitate both short-term and long-term monitoring. We further must develop and validate methods for measuring biological activity linked with nanoparticles, including how they pass through cell membranes and dissolve in water and biological fluids. And we need to develop automated methods for screening and analyzing many different particles.
To ensure worker protection, we need to survey techniques for monitoring and analyzing workplace exposure to determine whether they are adequate for nanoparticles. Depending on the results, we may need to develop new air-sampling techniques, perhaps drawing on existing schemes now used in the semiconductor industry. We must also determine whether commercially available techniques for controlling air pollution during manufacturing—as well as standard protective equipment for workers—will get the job done. We further need to determine how nanoparticles released to the environment change over time, given changes in humidity, electrical fields, and temperatures.
American Chemical Council
Although the potential benefits of nanotechnology are overwhelming, a key challenge is understanding its environmental, health, and safety (EHS) implications. In pursuing that challenge we must examine the entire risk-benefit equation, because the unknowns concerning this technology are significant, and because history shows that public fears can inhibit a promising new technology. If we do not promote more interdisciplinary EHS research and better public communica-
tion of nanotechnology’s risk and benefits, we will continue to repeat problems from the past. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, some 750 to 800 U.S.-based companies are already involved in nanotechnology. This number is likely to grow, along with increasing emphasis on better understanding of EHS implications.
Views of the EHS implications of nanotechnology range from “no problem” to “stop right here.” However, closing off new nano-based approaches to remediating pollution because we are afraid of new risks would be a mistake. Instead, because of the arena’s complexity, we must develop a rolling approach to characterizing risk that allows for interim decisions. We must also perform a gap analysis to determine the major EHS uncertainties, based on an inventory of existing research. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has begun such an analysis.
Characterizing risk entails examining the entire exposure-dose-response cycle. This requires studying ecosystems as well as human health, identifying vulnerable populations, and investigating occupational, environmental, and consumer exposures. However, this task is formidable because we can make an infinite number of nanomaterials, and because we lack national and international risk-based standards and national and international research capacity for evaluating these materials. We must therefore develop more effective and efficient methods for studying exposure-dose-response pathways, and establish research priorities.
The highest near-term EHS priority is for methods for how to study these novel materials. At present, many public and private institutions are initiating research from their own perspective, with fundamental differences in approaches and without a framework for assessing or interpreting risks.
The United States needs a national strategy to avoid duplication of research and to set priorities. However, an international strategy would be even more effective, because nanomaterials, companies, and markets do not respect national boundaries. We also need an international clearinghouse to share and leverage knowledge and foster a cross-disciplinary focus. This will require more than just a website: the federal government must make active efforts to communicate information on potential risks and approaches to avoiding or mitigating them to developers, manufacturers, and the public, and to engage them in dialog. Annual workshops designed to facilitate the exchange of new knowledge on the EHS implications of nanotechnology could prove invaluable.
Major nanotechnology producers are actively trying to avoid risks to workers and consumers, such as by developing an occupational air-monitoring program. Industry does not shy away from regulations designed to protect the public and the environment, as that approach provides a more stable business climate. However, federal agencies must encourage academic laboratories and start-up companies to follow EHS approaches used by established manufacturers.
The National Nanotechnology Initiative is well situated to promote a collaborative approach and better communication between nanotechnologists and the EHS community. Toward that end efforts are needed under the NNI to publicly identify all existing and proposed EHS research, including at national laboratories, and to clarify whether such research is addressing implications or applications. Beyond that, while federal agencies have funded some research on the EHS implications of nanotechnology, they need to support far more, especially on fundamental methodological issues. If we let such critical research lag technological development, we will have learned little from past experience.
American Forest and Paper Association
The U.S. forest products industry—which accounts for 7 percent of the U.S. manufacturing base and employs 1.3 million people—is a relative newcomer to nanotechnology. However, the industry is now aiming to use existing and emerging nanotechnology to improve today’s products and processes, while also exploiting the nanoscale properties of cellulose fibrils to create new materials and products. In fact, nanotechnology promises to remake the industry by bolstering its financial performance while improving its energy efficiency and reducing its environmental impact.
The industry held its first workshop on how best to pursue these opportunities in October 2004, and it issued a roadmap in April 2005. The industry is now trying to build support for its research agenda and priorities among potential partners in government, academia, and other industries.
Cellulose has interesting properties at the sub-micro level, and its nanofibrils are extremely strong, holding 25 percent of the strength of carbon nanotubes. However, the industry does not yet know how to liberate these properties. Yet new analytical techniques are revealing the potential for lignocellulose—nature’s nanobiomaterial and molecular-assembly machine—to become multifunctional and interact with other nanomaterials.
For example, if we can better understand and exploit the architecture and self-assembly of plant cell walls, we can grow cellulose nanomaterials with unique properties. These materials could provide breakthrough surface characteristics and bonding, serving as a matrix for other materials and allowing easy reconfiguration into other shapes and forms. Potential applications include novel biopolymers and other materials that are tailored to specific uses and are renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable.
Nanoscale cellulose materials could be used in composites with other materials to mitigate environmental, health, and safety concerns. This area shows promise
because paper products are already used extensively in conjunction with medicine and food, and the properties of cellulose are generally compatible with human health and the environment.
The industry is already using existing nanotechnology to a limited extent. Printing speeds in modern pulp mills continue to rise, and consumers are demanding sharper colors; silica nanoparticles are enhancing performance in these areas by improving print quality. The industry is also using silicon nanoparticles to improve paper bags; nanosizing to improve products’ surface properties; and nanoscale lime particles to stabilize 19th-century books.
Emerging nanotechnology offers the opportunity to monitor processes and products and revolutionize the pulp separations critical to manufacturing. For example, nanotechnology could enhance the dewatering process, help delignify wood, reduce the need for energy used in drying, and curb production of volatile organic compounds—major challenges in the industry. Nanosensors in intelligent wood and paper products could detect loads, moisture levels, and temperatures.
Nanotechnology further promises to enable the industry to make lighter-weight products from less material. Wood could also be engineered at the nanoscale to produce pharmaceutical products and to optimize the production of pulp, paper, and biofuel. Potential products include new wood preservatives and fire retardants.
To exploit these possibilities, we need to better understand the complexity and surface features of nanofibrils. The industry’s priority areas for R&D include:
Developing instrumentation and analytical techniques for characterizing cellulose nanostructures;
Using existing nanomaterials, nanosensors, and other applications to improve the efficiency of converting raw materials into products, and to boost their performance;
Using self-assembly of nanoscale building blocks in materials, structures, and coatings;
Biofarming cellulose materials with unique multifunctional properties;
Developing biomimetic processes for synthesizing cellulose-based nanomaterials;
Manipulating tree genetics and cellular biology, chemistry, and physics to produce biological versions of carbon tubes;
Developing multifunctional, self-assembling biopolymers that serve as unique nanomaterials and devices;
Investigating the convergence of biopolymer nanostructures with silicon-based information technology in trees;
Adapting nanomanufacturing technologies to cellulose surfaces;
Exploring the use of nanocellulose materials in medical applications; and
Exploring the efficient conversion of cellulose to renewable biofuels and biochemicals.
Through its Agenda 2020, the industry is beginning to form partnerships with federal and state governments, academia, and other industries to pursue this agenda. The industry is also considering whether it needs to adapt its existing environmental, health, and safety guidelines to address nanotechnology, perhaps learning from other materials-based industries.
More than 40 years ago, Gordon Moore, an Intel founder, accurately predicted the dramatic, sustained rise in the density of transistors on computer chips, accompanied by a radical reduction in their costs. Ambitious projects such as mapping the human genome and modeling proteins—as well as other cutting-edge applications of science and technology—depend on such rapid increases in affordable computational power.
Intel introduced nanofeatures—transistors less than 100 nanometers wide—into its products 5 years ago. A Pentium 4 chip now packs 100 million transistors, while the Itanium 2 chip includes 1.7 billion devices. Transistors 35 to 65 nanometers wide are now ready for mass-production. Because these nanoelectronics use traditional materials such as silicon, they are evolutionary, and their environmental, health, and safety issues are well understood.
To sustain Moore’s law, research on new transistors is now focusing on the 10-nanometer scale (for comparison, DNA is 2 nanometers wide), with production expected in 2011. However, at that scale, the industry must rely on new nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and nanowires. These materials represent a greater leap, and their EHS risks are unknown. More research on these risks is therefore critical before the industry uses them in high-performance settings.
Two needs are common to all industries that will use nanotechnology: a better understanding of the toxicity of nanomaterials, and standard techniques for measuring and mitigating EHS concerns. Such research must be noncompetitive: that is, it must represent a collaborative effort among academia, government, nongovernmental organizations, and industry. This EHS research must develop common terminology and methods for assessing toxicity. It must also investigate exposure routes, pulmonary toxicology, other organ-specific toxicology, environmental toxicity, and the fate of nanomaterials. Specific EHS needs include methods for monitoring exposure, limits on exposure, engineering and protocols for personal protective equipment, and techniques for controlling emissions.
Intel collaborates with other companies such as DuPont in benchmarking EHS activities and also asks its university suppliers, as well as nanotech start-ups in which it is investing, to adhere to its EHS standards. However, the industry is unsure if today’s techniques for addressing EHS concerns are adequate for nanotechnology
To support the needed research, Intel participates in the NNI and is a founding sponsor of the International Council on Nanotechnology, whose mission includes EHS concerns. Intel is also participating in nano-related activities of the American National Standards Institute and ASTM, and the Nanomaterial Handling Working Group of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The company aims to use the most conservative approach in protecting its employees—especially as any EHS-related disruptions in billion-dollar chip-fabricating plants can prove extremely costly. However, research must shed more light on what the best approach to protecting health and safety should be.
DEFENSIVE TECHNOLOGIES, HUMAN ENHANCEMENT, AND ETHICAL ISSUES
Humanities Director, Center for Bioethics
Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of South Carolina
Bioethical debate traditionally distinguishes between medical interventions used for therapeutic reasons and those designed to enhance human form or function. Examples of the latter—where medicine reaches beyond its traditional domain—include sports doping, pharmaceuticals that bolster cognitive ability, and cosmetic surgery. Many developments associated with nanotechnology expand our capacity for enhancing human form and function, and they do this in ways that blur the line between therapy and enhancement. Nanotechnology, therefore, forces us to frame the ethical debate over how to proceed in a new way, and we are still struggling to find the appropriate terms for thinking through what is at stake.
The Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science Convergence project offers an example. This broad public-private initiative is designed to spur integration of four domains—nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science—within a 10 to 20-year time frame. Goals of the project include high-speed, broadband interface between brains and machines, and interventions that make the body more durable, energetic, easier to repair, and resistant to threats and the aging process. The initiative also aims to control the genetics of humans, animals, and agricultural plants, and it promises to tightly integrate the individual with the community. MIT’s Institute for
Soldier Nanotechnologies contemplates a similarly radical enhancement of human capacity. The question is not just whether these outcomes might occur, but when and how. We already have teams of brilliant scientists funded to accomplish these goals. We now need to ask whether we have sufficiently reflected on the ethical issues integral to these projects.
These developments are more extreme than bioethics usually contemplates, with no clear line between conventional medical treatment and enhancement. The initiatives, therefore, argue for integrating ethical reflection into the R&D process—that is, to anticipate where we are going rather than simply reacting—to ensure that humanity benefits from such research.
At times, the diffuse and science-fiction-like character of these enhancements makes specifying and addressing ethical issues difficult. What’s more, there is inherent tension between the desire to narrow NNI’s participants’ focus to define nanotechnology more carefully and the goal of expanding our thinking to address the profound ethical issues provoked by human enhancement. If we simply consider each piece of this picture separately, we won’t see the radical extension of human capacities on the horizon.
The traditional model for addressing the social impacts of new technology assumes a neat divide between fundamental research and development on the one hand and ethics on the other, with the latter coming into play at the end of the process. Under this approach, ethics often involves a quasi-scientific process that relies on cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, and risk communication, with broader concerns rationalized into a utility calculus. This model assumes a linear division of labor, in which we know who does what at each step. Facts and values are separate, risks and benefits are commensurable and scalable, and uncertainty can be understood and managed scientifically. In this model, proponents of a technology view public involvement as interference with the scientific process, and they focus on the adverse impacts of regulation.
However, when an emergent technology is radically disruptive, as some nanotechnology-based enhancements promise to be, we need to reconsider all facets of this model. Dr. Colvin provided a good example when she considered how an understanding of the relationship between the structure and the function of nanomaterials requires a new relationship between chemists and toxicologists. We need to extend such collaboration beyond two scientific disciplines to include people within the humanities as well as the sciences who desire to address the ethical and policy issues on the near-term horizon. We also need to develop guidelines for responsible conduct of researchers who go beyond therapeutics and want to enhance human abilities. We must also create an integrated approach to ethical issues, as a simple pro-versus-con debate will not help people think through the implications of nanotechnology-based human enhancement.
Rosalyn W. Berne
Associate Professor of Ethics and Religious Studies, Department of Science, Technology, and Society, University of Virginia
Ethics seeks to identify principles that govern human choices and behaviors. Technological development, in contrast, focuses on solving perceived problems and improving the material conditions under which humans live. Military technology, in particular, is concerned with establishing power and control over forces deemed to be a threat.
Some 26 to 32 percent of NNI funds are devoted to achieving military ends. Specific projects include pulse-energy projectile weapons that seek to inflict severe pain from a distance, radar-resistant materials for use in unpiloted vehicles, sensors to detect biological and chemical toxins, technologies that extend the physical abilities of the soldier, and composite fabrics that can resist chemical and biological agents. These projects are based on the widely held notion that the nation is at risk from biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear weapons. They also reflect the fact that as a nation, we feel vulnerable to destruction from any direction by myriad forces. The ultimate goal is to reduce casualties among our soldiers while ensuring swifter and more efficient destruction and death for others, that is, to become the most powerful force on the planet.
Nanoethics seek to understand the values and beliefs embedded in this quest for military dominance and to steer development of nanotechnology toward humanitarian aims. Yet these fundamental goals conflict with each other. Thus, the challenges of framing an ethics of military nanotechnology are formidable. How do we untangle these ideological conflicts and think through their ethical implications?
We could start by viewing military ethics through a three-dimensional framework. These three dimensions include practical concerns; questions about what constitutes morality in developing nanotechnology for military use; and metaethics, which seeks to elevate the psychological underpinnings of military nanotechnology from the tacit to the explicit.
The first dimension includes investigations into the potential toxicity of nanotechnology. We expect scientists and engineers to avoid exposing themselves and others to nanomaterials that might prove hazardous, and to avert irreversible environmental harm. However, we have only preliminary notions of which nanomaterials and devices could prove harmful, and information on health and safety hazards is so far inconclusive. Basic research, therefore, entails fundamental risks. The practical first dimension of military ethics also focuses on access—how to keep powerful new technologies out of the hands of others.
Second-dimension ethics asks what kinds of weapons and systems we ought
to develop, and under what conditions we should use them. Such ethics would also ask: Who will provide the specialized retraining needed to operate these new systems? What kind of quality of life and economic opportunities will training and access provide, and for whom?
Second-dimension nanoethics would further ask: What is the best way for human beings to address disputes, and how can we distinguish right from wrong in the pursuit of military power? Sophisticated materials may ensure fewer casualties for our soldiers in the short term, but they may also may mean swifter death for others. Nanomaterials and devices are also likely to further erode rules for a fair battlefield, and may well prove a threat to ourselves in the long run.
Nanotechnology is often couched as an international contest; leaders have pointed to great economic opportunities if the United States wins the nanotech race. However, this notion, too, raises important second-dimension questions: Should the scientific process ever be rushed, and toward what end? What does it mean for people and nations to come in first? Technologies that offer the potential to restructure the body also provoke questions about how far we should alter human limits on physical power and longevity. And is controlling human existence with ever greater precision more important than solving other challenges, such as ensuring universal access to potable water? What will become of privacy and freedom in a nanotechnology-driven world? Will government use nanotechnology to assert a right to ubiquitous but invisible surveillance?
The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology at MIT conceives the fact that soldiers carry too much weight and do not have enough protection as the central problems. Researchers hope to create strong, lightweight materials that protect soldiers better while improving their mobility. First-dimension nanoethics would see little dispute over the need to protect soldiers and support their work. However, the second dimension would pose ideological questions: Under which conditions is war just? Who decides questions concerning the taking and protecting of life?
The second dimension would also note that the resources society devotes to military applications of nanotechnology have ethical implications. For example, NNI is devoting not one dollar to eliminating war or devising technological solutions to the causes of war. Such concerns are always implicit in ethical considerations of war. However, each advance in efficiency and sophistication strengthens humanity’s capacity for more profound destruction, and thus nanotechnology forces us to actively address such implications.
A key third-dimension question concerns the connection between human psychological makeup and the pursuit of military power and dominance through nanotechnology. This approach would consider claims of disease control, beliefs about material existence, and the fear of death. The third dimension would also consider the role of metaphor in creating meaning.
In fact, the imaginative dimensions of morality are critical. For example, how might moral imagination prompt us to turn the military uses of nanotechnology toward preserving human life and the planet? If ethics can expand our moral imagination, might we conceive—instead of a nanojet fighter—a nanojet immobilizer that renders bombs and missiles totally powerless?
SOCIETAL IMPLICATIONS OF NANOTECHNOLOGY
Embry Research and Communications, Denver, Colorado
Senior Advisor to Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
From 2001 forward, an interdisciplinary team of social scientists at North Carolina State University has conducted several “citizen consensus conferences”—based on a Danish model—and other studies aimed at testing and creating mechanisms for effective public participation in U.S. technology policymaking. Citizen consensus conferences always include citizen recommendations to government. The first such conference in 2001 was held in face-to-face mode, on the topic of genetically modified foods. A second conference was held wholly via group conferencing software on the Internet. And in 2003, we held several more conferences to further test the Internet-mediated approach, this time focusing on the topic of global warming.
In 2004, two of us conducted the first demographically representative national survey of public awareness of and attitudes toward nanotechnology. Additionally, I developed and separately convened experimental issue groups (EIGs), in which participants received information on different development scenarios for nanotechnology and then reported their views on benefits and expressed their concerns.
Of the 1,536 people who participated in the national survey, we found that 52 percent had heard “nothing” about nanotechnology, while 32 percent had heard “a little.” We also found that only 16 percent had heard “quite a bit” or “a lot.” Just 3 percent could answer three true-or-false questions about the technology correctly, while 34 percent could answer two questions correctly. However, 40 percent thought the benefits of nanotechnology would outweigh the risks, while 38 percent thought risks and benefits would be about equal.
From data gathered via the experimental issue groups, I found that participants ranked “reduced health casualties” as the primary gain they hoped for from nanotechnology—which included finding better cures for major diseases, developing
less invasive treatments with fewer side effects, and taking care of basic health care needs such as cavities. Participants cited environmental cleanup and protection as the next most important desired benefit from nanotechnology, followed by better jobs and a stronger economy, better consumer products, and new materials for exploring deep space and water. They also hoped for higher-quality food, options for repairing and regenerating the body, and solutions to world problems such as desalinization, food, transportation, and energy.
Participants in the groups cited military uses—including the potential for another arms race, more terrorism, and more pollution of military bases—as the most important anticipated downsides of nanotechnology. They also expressed concern about its long-term health effects and environmental footprint. However, the broadest area of concern involved nanotechnology’s social footprint, which included a potential loss of freedom of choice and privacy, a loss of control by regulators, and ethical challenges.
At least two-thirds of both survey respondents and group participants do not trust government or industry leaders to manage these risks effectively. Participants with a college degree or higher expressed the lowest level of trust. Participants were most concerned about the ability of government to manage the risks of nanotechnology in medicine and industrial arenas—with the former an unexpected concern.
The EIG study also investigated the reasoning underlying people’s attitudes toward nanotechnology. I found that participants based their concerns largely on experience rather than fears of out-of-control nano-robots. Indeed, they already see a lack of control and tracking of the risks of nanotechnology. The bottom line is that the public is excited about the promise of nanotechnology but wants to know how it will be managed.
These results suggest that mechanisms soliciting citizens’ views on the most desired benefits and unwanted risks of technology can provide important information not available elsewhere. However, to obtain valid and replicable results for citizen forums, organizers must develop a consistent process for convening them, including a uniform process for recruiting participants and creating briefing materials, and metrics for measuring effectiveness. Some known processes create greater polarization of views, for examples and others lead to great citizen frustration. Neither is a desirable outcome, as both worsen citizen perceptions of and levels of trust in government.
Although conducting citizen technology forums is challenging, ensuring a public voice in technology policy is critical. We need both evolutionary and revolutionary mechanisms for soliciting greater public input—beyond established interest groups—and for giving citizens a seat at the policymaking table.
Note: Since this workshop, Dr. Macoubrie was lead author of a paper enti-
tled “Informed Public Perceptions of Nanotechnology and Trust in Government” released in 2005 by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report is based on a study conducted to assess general public perceptions, which provided evidence of support for nanotechnology and its benefits, more public involvement in information sharing about nanotechnology products and developments, and a general mistrust of the government to manage technology-related risks. She also has published “Nanotechnology: Public Concerns, Reasoning, and Trust in Government” (J. Macoubrie. 2006. Nanotechnology: Public concerns, reasoning, and trust in government. Public Understanding of Science 15:221-241), a report on a 2004 experimental issue group study of concerns about and expectations for nanotechnology.
Faculty Fellow of Chemistry, Rice University
Executive Director for Policy
Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology, Rice University
As nanomaterials begin to appear in consumer products amid talk about the potential for controlling disease, protecting soldiers, and facilitating exploration of deep space, civil society groups are focusing on the environmental, health, and safety implications of these uses. Many scientists are concerned that experience with nanotechnology will parallel that with genetically modified foods and other technologies, with early enthusiasm vanishing as health and environmental concerns emerge, prompting a backlash against widespread use. Indeed, some of the same players that oppose nuclear power and agricultural biotechnology are beginning to address the risks of nanotechnology. For example, Greenpeace has called for a moratorium on further nanotechnology research until the hazards are better understood and laboratory controls are in place.
The combination of many concerned stakeholders and numerous unanswered social and environmental questions has strong potential to result in confusion and misinformation. Social science researchers are performing well-documented studies of public perceptions of nanotechnology. However, to avoid the familiar “wow-to-yuck” trajectory, the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) sees a need to engage the public in policy interactions with government and industry, and to incorporate nanotechnology into the curriculum at all educational levels. These efforts should include inviting public interest groups and citizens to participate in roadmapping workshops for nanotechnology.
Toward that end, CBEN has created the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) to “assess, communicate, and reduce the environmental and health
risks of nanotechnology.” ICON includes representatives from academia, government, nongovernmental groups, and companies from numerous industrial sectors. ICON is based on a network model, to enable all these stakeholders to interact. The idea emanated partly from conversations with CBEN’s industrial affiliates, who worry that environmental, health, and safety concerns will add risk to their investments in nanotechnology.
ICON is focusing on research on both the technical and the social risks of nanotechnology, developing standards, and creating unbiased information for the lay public. As one piece of these efforts, ICON is working with CBEN to post a comprehensive database of nanotechnology-related research on the Web, and to include lay summaries of important findings and place them in their larger context.
However, such efforts need to move beyond simply assessing risk in the laboratory to consider more fundamental social and political questions. These include: Why this technology? Who needs it? Who benefits from it? Who is controlling it? Can developers be trusted? What will it mean for me and my family? Will it improve the environment? And how will it affect people in the developing world? All these questions must be part of the risk-assessment landscape.
To encourage college students to address these questions, CBEN developed an undergraduate course—funded by the National Science Foundation—to enable them to distinguish fact from fiction regarding nanotechnology, and to consider what role they will play in determining its future. As part of the course, each student testified before a mock city council—which was trying to decide whether to approve a nanotechnology laboratory—representing the position of a corporate leader, a nanotechnology expert, a environmental advocate, a government regulator, a worker, or a local community group. Teachers at other universities are developing similar courses designed to encourage students to actively weigh the future of nanotechnology.
Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense
In the mid-1990s, Environmental Defense followed up on reports from the National Research Council (NRC) on the lack of information on high-volume industrial chemicals by working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry to generate better information and make it public. That effort provides a model for the constructive engagement needed to address the new class of chemical substances known as engineered nanomaterials.
Familiar materials can exhibit wholly new properties when reengineered at the nanoscale. For example, the same metallic aluminum used in soda cans can be used at the nanoscale as a catalyst in rocket fuel. Subtle differences in otherwise identi-
cal nanomaterials—such as the degree of twist in carbon nanotubes—can affect their electrical conductivity. The upside of these properties is an enormous range of possible applications, many with potential environmental and health benefits. However, the downside is the potential for some of those same materials to enter the environment and interact with living systems in ways that pose potential risks, including a range of toxicities. For example, preliminary studies suggest that some nanomaterials may cross the blood–brain barrier or accumulate in living tissue. If the public is not convinced that developers of this potentially transformative technology and their government overseers can manage these risks, we will see a significant backlash against them, paralleling that seen with genetically modified foods.
Most studies of the potential risks of nanotechnology have examined the impact of fairly high doses over short-term exposures. Because the results are preliminary, the need for more research is clear. However, until recently the government devoted just $10 million or less of the $1 billion spent annually on nanotechnology to risk-related studies. Federal agencies have since boosted their support for research on environmental, health, and safety risks to about $40 million. However, the federal government needs to devote at least $100 million annually for at least several years to better understand the implications side of the equation—a modest investment considering the magnitude of the challenge.2
The federal government must also perform other vital roles, including enhancing regulatory policies. The existing regulatory structure appears to have a number of gaps and loopholes. For example, because of the breadth of applications of nanotechnology, numerous federal agencies have potential jurisdiction, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. However, existing legislation allows some of these agencies to impose few requirements for pre-market testing, and so they can respond to problems mostly only after the fact. For example, the applicability of the Toxic Substances Control Act to nanomaterials is uncertain. If nanomaterials are considered new chemicals, then manufacturers must notify the EPA so it can evaluate the magnitude of the risks. However, if nanomaterials are considered existing materials, industry does not have to provide such notification. EPA has so far received only a small number of notifications from manufacturers. Confusion over nomenclature only complicates the task. These loopholes need to be closed and regulatory authority enhanced to allow adequate scrutiny of nanomaterials before they appear on
the market, as well as more interagency coordination and authority to address crosscutting impacts.
The first step is to acknowledge that nanomaterials differ from bulk materials. Industry and government authorities also need to adopt a life cycle approach to managing nanomaterials, take interim steps to manage risks before they are completely understood, and embrace public disclosure of all risk-related information. Responsible steps include assuming that such materials and wastes containing them are toxic until proven otherwise, monitoring workplaces, and requiring worker training and effective industrial hygiene.
The NNI’s Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee has a critical role to play in overseeing federal research dollars spent on health and environmental risks, and in performing a “gap analysis” of loopholes in federal oversight. To fulfill those roles, NSET should request and make public detailed information on federal agency plans for risk-related research and draw on the expertise of groups such as the NRC Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology to help shape an overall strategy. NSET must also move beyond the traditional top-down approach, giving stakeholders such as workers, consumers, and health and environmental advocates a seat at the agenda-setting and policymaking table.
Dietram A. Scheufele
Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Department of Life Sciences Communication, University of Wisconsin, Madison
What does the public think, know, and feel about nanotechnology, and how does it form these attitudes? When we first proposed a longitudinal research project to NSF to investigate these questions, some reviewers raised the question whether assessing public opinion toward nanotechnology is even possible at this early stage. And the answer is simple: It is possible and necessary to understand how people form opinions about nanotech, especially in the absence of information. This thinking is based on two models for how laypeople obtain information and develop attitudes toward science and technology.
The first model focuses on scientific literacy. This model assumes that the public has relatively limited information on scientific issues but that attitudes toward science and scientists would be more favorable if people knew more about them. However, this model is based on one inherent fallacy: that if the public learned about evidence-based inquiry and peer-reviewed findings, it would come to the same conclusions as scientists. But this assumption, of course, is flawed for two reasons. First, most research does not show a consistent link between scientific literacy and support for emerging technologies—either positive or negative.
Second, if people made decisions based exclusively on facts, we would not need systematic rules of scientific inquiry in the first place.
The second model is called the “cognitive miser” model. It also holds that people know very little about most issues, but that it makes little sense for most people to develop in-depth understanding given the thousands of decisions they must make every day. However, people still form attitudes and opinions, often without having a comprehensive understanding of the issues. To do so, they rely on shortcuts and cues based on religion, ideology, coverage in the mass media, and the opinions of others, tapping these sources more heavily the less information they have. For example, entertainment media provide many people’s understanding of how scientists work by cultivating certain images of scientists in movies and TV shows.
To investigate these models and better understand how people are beginning to form judgments about nanotechnology, we conducted a national survey of 706 respondents in 2004. We found that participants were most knowledgeable about the economic implications of nanotechnology, including the notion that it represents the next scientific revolution. We also found relatively high levels of basic knowledge, such as that nanomaterials are invisible to the human eye, and that nanotechnology allows modifications that do not occur in nature. However, people were less well informed about specific aspects of nanotechnology, such as the definition of a nanometer and its size compared with that of an atom.
People being interviewed who said they were aware of nanotechnology before were much more inclined to express overall support for its use than people who said they had been unaware of this new technology. However, we found no significant differences between aware and unaware respondents in their perception of the risks of nanotechnology. People in both groups expressed their deepest concern about potential loss of privacy, and also cited concern about a new arms race and a loss of U.S. jobs, expressing lowest concern about self-replicating robots. Still, we did find a significant difference between aware and unaware respondents regarding perceived benefits: the former were much more optimistic about the possibilities for cleaning up the environment, treating disease, improving national security, and enhancing human abilities.
The most obvious explanation is that people who were more optimistic about nanotechnology knew more about it. However, we did not find this interpretation to be supported by the data. Instead, we found that they relied more heavily on scientific media. These findings support the cognitve miser model. Specifically, what is the role of the media in influencing attitudes toward nanotechnology? Heavy users of science media may be more supportive of nanotechnology because coverage currently focuses mostly on its potential benefits rather than its risks. Today, a science writer does a majority of the reporting on nanotechnology for the
Washington Post, while the New York Times has assigned a business reporter to such coverage. Science and business media not only inform their audiences but likely “frame” nanotechnology positively.
Attitudes toward nanotechnology will change as mainstream media, rather than more specialized science and technology reporters, reframe the debate. Mainstream media will focus attention on potential downsides, and people will base their attitudes on the views of critics who cite the potential for toxic contamination and loss of privacy. Although public awareness and knowledge of nanotechnology will grow, attitudes will rest on packaging rather than content, as interest groups and policymakers offer competing frames. Scientifically based public discussion is unlikely to occur.
Further research on how people make decisions regarding nanotechnology is needed to answer several questions. What frames regarding nanotechnology now exist in the public arena, and what frames are likely to appear? How do these frames become part of the media agenda? What role can scientists, industry, and science writers play in influencing these dynamics? How will public opinion develop over the long term? Answering these questions is important because we do not fully understand how the public develops its attitudes and makes decisions regarding significant developments in science and technology as these issues emerge on the public agenda.
Altmann, J., and M. Gubrud. 2004. Anticipating military nanotechnology. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine 21(4).
Balbus, J., R. Denison, K. Florini, and S. Walsh. 2005. Getting nanotechnology right the first time. Issues in Science and Technology (Summer):65-71.
Bergeron, S., and E. Archambault. 2005. Canadian Stewardship Practices for Environmental Nanotechnology.
Bergeson, L.L. 2006. Nanoscale materials and TSCA: EPA’s NPPTAC recommends a framework for a voluntary program. Environmental Quality Management. Spring.
Bhattacharyya, D., W. Chen, G. Chumanov, V. Colvin, M.S. Diallo, J. Doshi, R.E. Gawley, M.V. Johnston, S.C. Larsen, T. Masciangioli, P.H. McMurray, A. Myers, P. Pascual, D. Rejelski, M. Roco, D. Rolison, S.I. Shah, W.Y. Shih, W.M. Sigmund, D.R. Strongin, T. Sun, N. Tao, W.C. Trogler, D. Velegol, M. Wiesner, X.D. Xiang, and W.X. Zhang. 2003. Nanotechnology and the Environment: Applications and Implications. STAR Progress Review Workshop, National Center for Environmental Research, Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Cable, J. 2005. A best practices approach to minimizing EHS risk in nanotechnology manufacturing. Occupational Hazards. October 6. Available at http://www.occupationalhazards.com/articles/14129, accessed February 2006.
Colvin, V.L. 2003. The potential environmental impact of engineered nanomaterials. Nat. Biotechnol. 21(10): 1166-1170.
Crichton, M. 2002. Prey. HarperCollins.
Denison, Richard A., Environmental Defense. 2005. A proposal to increase federal funding of nanotechnology risk research to at least $100 million annually. Available at http://www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/4442_100milquestionl.pdf.
Doraiswamy, Krishna, Environmental and safety impacts of nanotechnology: What research is needed?, presentation made at U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science Hearing, November 17, 2005. Available at http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/science/hsy24464.000/hsy24464_0.HTM.
Economic & Social Research Council. 2003. The Social and Economic Challenges of Nanotechnology. United Kingdom.
Elder, A., R. Gelein, M. Azadniv, M. Frampton, J. Finkelstein, and G. Oberdörster. 2004. Systemic effects of inhaled ultrafine particles in two compromised, aged rat strains. Inhalation Toxicology 16:461-471.
ETC Group. 2003. The Big Down: From Genomes to Atoms. Winnipeg, Manitoba: ETC Group.
ETC Group. 2004. Down on the Farm: The Impact of Nano-Scale Technologies on Food and Agriculture. Ottawa, Ontario: ETC Group. November.
European Commission (EC). 2003. The New EU Chemicals Legislation-REACH. Available at http://europa.eu.int/comm/enterprise/reach/index_en.htm.
European Commission (EC). 2004. Towards a European strategy for nanotechnology. Communication from the Commission of European Communities.
European Commission (EC). 2005. Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009. Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee. July 6.
Fonash, S.J. 2001. Education and training of the nanotechnology workforce. J. Nanoparticle Res. 3:79-82.
Francesconi, R. 2004. Survey Shows Public Can Discern Nano’s Benefits. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Small Times Media.
Friedman, S.M., and B.P. Egolf. 2005. Nanotechnology: Risks and the media. IEEE Technology and Society 24(Winter):5-11.
Greenpeace Environmental Trust. 2003. Future Technologies, Today’s Choices. United Kingdom.
Hampton, T. 2005. Researchers size up nanotechnology risks. JAMA 294:1881-1883.
Hardman, R. 2006. A toxicologic review of quantum dots: Toxicity depends on physicochemical and environmental factors. Environmental Health Perspectives 114:165-172.
Health and Safety Executive. 2004. Health Effects of Particles Produced for Nanotechnologies. United Kingdom.
HM Government. 2005. Response to the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering Report: “Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties.” London: HM Government.
HM Government. 2005. Characterising the Potential Risks Posed by Engineered Nanoparticles. London: HM Government.
Hood, E. 2004. Nanotechnology: Looking as we leap. Environmental Health Perspectives 112: A740-A749.
Institute of Medicine. 2005. Implications of Nanotechnology for Environmental Health Research. Lynn Goldman and Christine Coussens, eds. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2004. Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
International Risk Governance Council. 2006. Survey on Nanotechnology Governance. Volume A. The Role of Government. Geneva. January.
Joy, B. 2000. Why the future doesn’t need us. Wired 8(04).
Kalpin, M.C., and M. Hoffer. 2005. Nanotechnology and the environment: Will emerging environmental regulations stifle the promise? NSTI Nanotech 2005 Conference and Trade Show, Anaheim, Calif., May 8-12, 2005.
Kurzweil, R. 1999. The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Viking Adult.
Lam, C.-W., J.T. James, R. McCluskey, and R.L. Hunter. 2004. Pulmonary toxicity of single-wall carbon nanotubes in mice 7 and 90 days after intratracheal instillation. Toxicological Sciences 77:126-134.
Lewenstein, B.V. 2005. What counts as a “social and ethical issue” in nanotechnology? HYLE-International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry 11:5-18.
Macoubrie, J. 2005. Informed Public Perceptions of Nanotechnology and Trust in Government. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.
Meridian Institute. 2004. Report of the International Dialogue on Responsible Research and Development of Nanotechnology.
Meridian Institute. 2005. Global Dialogue on Nanotechnology and the Poor: Opportunities and Risks. Available at http://www.nanoandthepoor.org.gdnp.php.
Nanoforum. 2005. Fourth Nanoforum Report: Benefits, Risks, Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects of Nanotechnology. Second Edition. For more information, see http://www.nanoforum.org.
Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology Subcommittee, Committee on Technology, National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). 2001. Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Washington, D.C.: NSTC.
Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology Subcommittee, Committee on Technology, National Science and Technology Council. 2005. The National Nanotechnology Initiative: Research and Development Leading to a Revolution in Technology and Industry. Supplement to the President’s FY 2006 Budget Request. March.
Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology Subcommittee, Committee on Technology, National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). 2005. Regional, State, and Local Initiatives in Nanotechnology. Washington, D.C.: NSTC.
Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology Subcommittee, Committee on Technology, National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). 2005. Nanotechnology: Societal Implications—Maximizing Benefits for Humanity. Washington, D.C.: NSTC.
National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2005. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. (prepublication copy). Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 2005. Strategic Plan for NIOSH Nanotechnology Research: Filling the Knowledge Gaps. Washington, D.C.: NIOSH.
Nel, A.,T. Xia, L. Mädler, and N. Li. 2006. Toxic potential of materials at the nanolevel. Science 311:622-627.
Oberdörster, G., A. Maynard, K. Donaldson, V. Castranova, J. Fitzpatrick, K. Ausman, J. Carter, B. Karn, W. Kreyling, D. Lai, S. Olin, N. Monteiro-Riviere, D. Warheit, and H. Yang. 2005. Principles for characterizing the potential human health effects from exposure to nanomaterials: Elements of a screening strategy. Particle and Fibre Toxicology 2:8.
Phibbs, P. 2004. Nonprofit institute to work with industry, organizations to develop voluntary standards. Bureau of National Affairs, June 17, p. A-6.
Phoenix, C., and E. Drexler. 2004. Safe exponential manufacturing. Nanotechnology 15:869-872.
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). 2005. The National Nanotechnology Initiative at Five Years: Assessment and Recommendations of the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel. Washington, D.C.: PCAST.
Rejeski, D. 2004. The next small thing. The Environmental Forum. Washington, D.C.: The Environmental Law Institute.
Reynolds, G.H. 2002. Forward to the Future: Nanotechnology and Regulatory Policy. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute.
Reynolds, G.H. 2003. Nanotechnology and regulatory policy: Three futures. Harv. J. Law Technol. 17(1):180-209.
Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. 2004. Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: Opportunities and Uncertainties. United Kingdom: Royal Society.
Royal Society and the Science Council of Japan. 2005. Report of a Joint Royal Society–Science Council of Japan Workshop on the Potential Health, Environmental and Societal Impacts of Nanotechnologies. United Kingdom: Royal Society.
Salamanca-Buentello, F., D.L. Persad, E.B. Court, D.K. Martin, A.S. Daar, and P.A. Singer. 2005. Nanotechnology and the developing world. PLoS Medicine 2(5):e97.
Semmler, M., J. Seitz, F. Erbe, P. Mayer, J. Heyder, G. Oberdörster, and W. Kreyling. 2004. Long-term clearance kinetics of inhaled ultrafine insoluble iridium particles from the rat lung, including transient translocation into secondary organs. Inhalation Toxicology 16:453-459.
Singer, P.A., F. Salamanca-Buentello, and A.S. Daar. 2005. Harnessing nanotechnology to improveHarnessing nanotechnology to improve global equity. Issues in Science and Technology (Summer):57-64.
Sternstein, A. 2005. EPA data littered with errors and gaps. August 24. Available at http://www.fcw.com/article90389-08-24-05-Web.
Swiss Re. 2004. Nanotechnology: Small Matter, Many Unknowns. Zurich, Switzerland: Swiss Reinsurance Company.
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. s/s 2601 et seq. 1976. Available at http://www.epa.gov/region5/defs/html/tsca.htm, accessed February 2006.
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. s/s 2602 (2)(a). 1976. Available at http://www.epa.gov/region5/defs/html/tsca.htm, accessed February 2006.
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. s/s 2602 (9). 1976. Available at http://www.epa.gov/region5/defs/html/tsca.htm, accessed February 2006.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2005. Nanotechnology white paper (external review draft). Available at http://www.epa.gov/osa/pdfs/EPA_nanotechnology_white_paper_external_review_draft_12-02-2005.pdf.
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science Hearing, The Societal Implications of Nanotechnology, April 9, 2003. Available at http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/science/hsy86340.000/hsy86340_0.HTM.
Warheit, D.B., B.R. Laurence, K.L. Reed, D.H. Roach, G.A.M. Reynolds, and T.R. Webb. 2004. Comparative pulmonary toxicity assessment of single-wall carbon nanotubes in rats. Toxicological Sciences 77:117-125.
Warner, J.C., A.S. Cannon, and K.M. Dye. 2004. Green chemistry. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 24:775-799.
Weiss, R. 2004. “Data Quality” law is nemesis of regulation. Washington Post, August 16.
Weiss, R. 2005. Nanotechnology regulation needed, critics say. Washington Post, December 5.
Wilsdon, J., and R. Willis. 2004. See-Through Science: Why Public Engagement Needs to Move Upstream. United Kingdom: Demos.