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Body looks into environmental risks posed by nanotechnology

By Simon Pitman , 19-Feb-2008

With nanotechnology being incorporated into an increasing number of personal care products, a new body has been established to investigate the potential risks it may pose to the environment and to human health.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) encompasses activities related to nanotechnology across the US Federal government and has been built up to include a research component to understand the associated risks.



The body says that it is poised to invest $254m up to 2009 in an effort to meet the US government's request to research and understand the area.



Reflecting how much investment in the area has increased, in 2006 the federal government invested $68m in 246 research and development projects spanning seven different agencies.



The research will be co-ordinated by the Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications (NEHI) Working Group, under the National Science and Technology Council's Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET) subcommittee.




Strategy will focus research into risks



The body says that its new 'strategy' has been developed as a means to address a range of issues regarding nanotechnology through the co-ordination of the various government-linked and -sponsored agencies working in the area.



The current strategy that the NNI is working towards will focus on nanomaterials and their effect on human health and the environment.



The implementation of the strategy will see the NNI working both individually and with other bodies involved in the nanotech area to support research into the development of nanotechnology and assessment of its risks, as well as identifying areas of further co-operation with both other agencies and industry.




Nanotechnology already big in cosmetics



Manufacturers in the food and cosmetics industries are already using nanotechnology and the number of products developed using the new science is increasing fast.



An inventory of nanotech-based consumer goods, compiled by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center recently recorded 85 personal care products using the technology.



Indicating the speed of the development of the technology, in March 2006 when the inventory was launched there were 58 personal care products on the list.



Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating the properties of tiny particles, measuring one billionth of a metre and has a broad range of applications from computer chips to food and personal care.



A human hair is 80,000 nanometres (nm) wide, a red blood cell 7,000 nm wide, and a water molecule 0.3 nm wide.

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