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Ann Occup Hyg. 2007 Jan;51(1):1-12. Epub 2006 Oct 14.

Nanotechnology: the next big thing, or much ado about nothing?

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Chief Science Advisor, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC 20004-30275, USA.


Nanotechnology encompasses an increasingly sophisticated ability to manipulate matter at the nanoscale, resulting in new materials, products and devices that demonstrate new and unusual behaviour. While emerging nanotechnologies have great potential for good, there are increasing concerns that the selfsame attributes that make them attractive will also lead to new risks to human health. Research to date suggests that some purposely made nanomaterials will present hazards based on their structure--as well as their chemistry--thus challenging many conventional approaches to risk assessment and management. People involved in making and using these materials need to know what the risks are and how to manage them, if safe nanotechnology-based businesses are to emerge. Yet the challenges faced by the occupational hygiene community in ensuring safe nano-workplaces are substantial. We currently know enough to suggest that some engineered nanomaterials will present new and unusual risks, but there is very little information on how these risks can be identified, assessed and controlled. And many nanomaterials are in production and use now. Good occupational hygiene practices and existing knowledge on working with hazardous substances provide a useful basis for working safely with nanomaterials. But where existing knowledge fails, new research is needed to fill the gaps: this must be strategically administered and targeted to addressing specific issues in a timely manner. Failing to take these steps will ultimately lead to people's health being endangered and emerging nanotechnologies floundering. However, with foresight, sound science and strategic research, we have the opportunity to ensure that emerging nanotechnologies are as safe as possible, while reaching their full potential.

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