Green Nanotechnology: Straddling promise and uncertainty

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Nanotechnology has been called the second Industrial Revolution. Its seemingly limitless potential will continue to inspire innovations in a dizzying array of beneficial applications and briskly transform society. Despite the hope and promise nanotechnology brings, engineered nanoparticles, the tiny engines driving this new transformative technology, also generate a palpable apprehension due to their largely unknown implications on human health and the environment. Enter green nanotechnology, an approach to managing the potential environmental, health, and safety (EHS) risks associated with the manufacture and use of nano-enabled products while fostering their responsible development and application.

This article describes green nanotechnology and discusses the reasons why traditional chemicals-assessment and management approaches may not be adequate in all cases in the near term when applied to nanomaterials. It outlines the reasons why green nanotechnology may serve as an alternative approach to chemicals assessment when applied to nanomaterials and suggests some measures to advance the goals of green nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology encompasses the science of nanomaterials, forms of matter in a particular size range, roughly between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm). Nanomaterials are bigger than most molecules and smaller than bacteria cells. They can consist of groups of single elements such as metals, groups of compounds such as metal oxides, tubes or wires of elements, soccer ball structures, branching structures, and infinite combinations of these. Nanomaterials can be regular and geometric like crystals or irregular like foam.

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