Small concerns: Nanoscale materials as CECs

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Courtesy of Burns & McDonnell

Products are being designed, tested and sold today tluit make use of nanoscale materials and nanoscale properties. The more commonly discussed applications include nanoscale electronics, more efficient water and wastewater membranes, and other materials with tailor-made physical properties (such as weight, strength, etc.) unavailable by their 'macro' counterparts. Due to the explosive growth of research in this field, nanoscale compounds are being manufactured and utilized at a rapidly increasing rate. As this industry matures, even larger volume's of these new materials will be created, handled and ultimately released in the environment. Although research regarding the toxicity of vanous nanomaterials in the environment and in the human body is only now being published, preliminary findings suggest that these materials may well be the next class or compounds of emerging concern (CECs). Quantifying the environmental toxicity of these materials is problematic due to their unique physical properties. New approaches to toxicity studies and material classification schemes may be required to properly assess the impact of this new class of compounds on human health and the environment. Potential approaches to managing this issue include a stronger focus on waste minimization and pretreatment.

In addition to the technical concerns, public awareness is also a key element of addressing the risks involved with the research and use of nanoscale materials. As the results of research become available to the public, and as products utilizing nanoscale materials are released to consumers, it will be important that the public have a fundamental understanding of nanoscale science, materials, and technology. In a 2006 poll, over three-quarters of U.S. residents indicated that they had heard nothing or very little about nanotechnology. A public education program, sponsored by the nanotechnology industry, in coordination with public and governmental institutions, can help to give the public a basic understanding of the risk and potential of nanoscale materials. allowing them to make more informed decisions regarding consumer behavior and public funding for fundamental research.

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