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Keeping the Small Stuff Safe

Starting today, public comment is being invited on the draft National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety Research (“NNI nanoEHS strategy”) at the NNI Strategy Portal.

Starting today, public comment is being invited on the draft National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety Research (“NNI nanoEHS strategy”) at the NNI Strategy Portal. This is a great opportunity for the public to help shape policy in an important area of science, health, and environmental stewardship.

Nanotechnology—the emerging field in which scientists and engineers work on scales of billionths of a meter—has the potential to significantly transform society in many key areas including materials, processes, and products for revolutionary applications in areas as wide-ranging as energy storage, medical diagnostics, and high-speed computing. The responsible development of nanotechnology is one of the four goals of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), as described in the upcoming NNI Strategic Plan. In order to fully realize the promise of nanotechnology, research is needed to understand its environmental, health, and safety (EHS) implications, help assess potential risks, and provide guidance on the safety of nanomaterials throughout the product life cycle – from manufacture to use to disposal.

The need to remain focused on EHS was reinforced in recommendations from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in its recent assessment of the NNI.

The NNI, the U.S. Government nanotechnology R&D program consisting of 25 agencies, is coordinated under the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Technology. The NNI provides a framework for a comprehensive nanotechnology R&D program by establishing shared goals, priorities, and strategies complementing agency-specific missions and activities. The NSET Subcommittee’s Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications (NEHI) Working Group provides a forum for focused interagency collaborations on EHS and leadership in establishing the national nanotechnology EHS research agenda

The draft NNI nanoEHS Strategy includes a scientific framework that incorporates the research needed to assess the environmental, health and safety of nanomaterials. The strategy describes the NNI EHS research investment by research need, the state of the science, and an analysis of the gaps and barriers to achieving that research as part of the NNI's adaptive management process. It updates and replaces the NNI EHS Strategy of February 2008. The strategy aims to ensure the responsible development of nanotechnology by providing guidance to the Federal agencies that produce the scientific information for risk management, regulatory decision-making, product use, research planning, and public outreach. The core research areas providing this critical information are measurement, human exposure assessment, human health, and the environment, in order to inform risk assessment and risk management.

Detailed and highly collaborative planning efforts were required in the development of this strategy. NEHI analyzed information from Federal agencies with responsibility for the oversight of R&D, manufacture, import, sale, or use of nanomaterials and nanotechnology-enabled products. They also solicited input from other stakeholders, including the nanotechnology EHS R&D community, public health advocacy groups, non-governmental organizations, industry representatives, and the public. Members from these communities planned and contributed to a series of four NNI-sponsored workshops in 2009 and 2010, specifically targeted at informing this latest NNI nanoEHS Strategy.

Your comments on this draft of the plan must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on January 6, 2011. Please reference page and line numbers as appropriate, and keep your responses to 4,000 characters or less. While you are encouraged to participate in the online community and post your responses at the NNI Strategy Portal, you may also email your responses (of the same length) to  (Note: Please do not include in your comments information of a confidential nature, such as sensitive personal information or proprietary information. All public comments are subject to being made available for public inspection, including being posted at the portal.)

We thank you for your contributions to the draft NNI nanoEHS Strategy, and look forward to a spirited dialog at the NNI Strategy Portal!

Sally Tinkle is Coordinator for Nanotechnology Environmental, Health, and Safety and Deputy Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office