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Nanotechnology—a term encompassing nanoscale science, engineering, and technology—is focused on understanding, controlling, and exploiting the unique properties of matter that can emerge at scales of one to 100 nanometers. A key issue before Congress regarding nanotechnology is how best to protect human health, safety, and the environment as nanoscale materials and products are researched, developed, manufactured, used, and discarded. While the rapidly emerging field of nanotechnology is believed by many to offer significant economic and societal benefits, some research results have raised concerns about the potential adverse environmental, health, and safety (EHS) implications of nanoscale materials.
Some have described nanotechnology as a two-edged sword. On the one hand, some are concerned that nanoscale particles may enter and accumulate in vital organs, such as the lungs and brains, potentially causing harm or death to humans and animals, and that the diffusion of nanoscale particles in the environment might harm ecosystems. On the other hand, some believe that nanotechnology has the potential to deliver important EHS benefits such as reducing energy consumption, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions; remediating environmental damage; curing, managing, or preventing diseases; and offering new safety-enhancing materials that are stronger, self-repairing, and able to adapt to provide protection.
Stakeholders generally agree that concerns about potential detrimental effects of nanoscale materials and devices—both real and perceived—must be addressed to protect and improve human health, safety, and the environment; enable accurate and efficient risk assessment, risk management, and cost-benefit trade-offs; foster innovation and public confidence; and ensure that society can enjoy the widespread economic and societal benefits that nanotechnology may offer. Congressionally-mandated reviews of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) by the National Research Council and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology have concluded that additional research is required to make a rigorous risk assessment of nanoscale materials.