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Study to determine what happens to nanotechnology materials released to the environment

There is widespread agreement that the successful development and use of nanotechnology depends on showing that nanotech materials are safe—for human health and for the environment. A new study will trace the movement of nanoparticles through the environment and determine their impact on health and natural systems. A particular focus is to find out what alterations fullerenes might undergo as a consequence of interactions with microbes in the environment. From Rice University, via AAAS EurekAlert “NSF-funded Rice study will trace path of nanomaterials“:

Researchers want to know if particles can be transported through food chain

Working to ensure the safe use of nanomaterials is the basis of a new Rice study funded by the National Science Foundation.

Led by Pedro Alvarez, the George R. Brown Professor and chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and Vicki Colvin, the Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor of Chemistry and director of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology, the study will trace tagged nanoparticles to increase understanding of how they move through the environment and what impact they may have on the health and function of natural systems.

With industrial-scale production of materials that use nanoparticles on the near horizon, Alvarez said now is the time to address concerns over their safety.

“Nanotechnology offers tremendous potential to enhance our quality of life, from improving the performance of commercial products, to enhanced diagnosis and treatment of disease, to refining water and cleaning up the environment,” he said.

Nanotechnology, said Alvarez, “is full of initially promising qualities, but you have to consider the potential for environmental damage. For example, look at DDT. Hans Mueller won the Nobel Prize in 1948 for using DDT to fight malaria, but now we know the environmental damage impact.”

He said the study will take a proactive approach to the potential dangers of nanoparticles, a subject that has found its way into the popular press in recent years. “When you have an increase in the production of nanomaterials, I can assure you some will enter the environment through waste or the manufacturing process. We’re focusing on fullerenes, and this grant is aimed at trying to understand their impact.”

…”There are many critical gaps in determining how dangerous nanomaterial is,” he said. “So our strategy is to inform safety by design, safe disposal, and safe manufacturing and handling.”

—Jim

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