Nanotechnology Companies Need Safety Guidance

In survey results released Dec. 12, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies revealed many firms must develop a more concrete approach to address the environmental, health and safety implications of using nanoscale products and materials.

The web-based questionnaire was administered to 180 nanotechnology firm managers in the Northeast to determine the extent of their efforts to manage nanotechnology EHS risks. The results show that 80 percent of large firms and 63 percent of medium firms are working to address nanotechnology EHS hazards, but only 33 percent of small companies are taking the same steps. A mere 12 percent of firms in the start-up stages of nanotechnology development reported working toward managing risks.

John Lindberg and Margaret Quinn of the University of Massachusetts Lowell authored the report based on the survey findings.

“Many smaller firms recognize the need to address risks proactively, but few have the resources to do so,” said Lindberg. “At present, the majority of survey participants expect to rely on suppliers to provide nanomaterial risk management information in the form of Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). But these do not always reflect the latest health and safety information, and regulatory or consensus guidance for these new materials is lacking.”

In particular, Director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies David Rejeski pointed out that carbon nanotubes sold over the Internet have current MSDS treating them as graphite. Nanotubes, however, have “no more than a passing resemblance to this material.”

33% Do Not Believe in Risks

According to the report, 50 percent of respondents cited “insufficient information available to quantify risks” while 33 percent revealed they “do not believe there is EHS risk associated with our processes or materials.”

“Clearly, companies are not being given the guidance they need,” Rejeski said. “The findings from this study are consistent with other surveys of nanotech businesses in California, New York, and around the world. Firms are flying somewhat blind into the future and need a clear set of rules, a sense of the emerging regulatory landscape, and access to relevant research on risks in order to ensure both nanotechnology safety and profits.”

The survey shows that U.S. companies need more information and guidance to safely address the nanotechnology’s risks, especially within such a rapidly growing industry. According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, the worldwide investment in nanotechnology surpassed $12 billion last year, with a $50 billion global value of manufactured nanotechnology goods.

The report is available at: http://www.nanotechproject.org/145.

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