The Danes released their NanoRiskCat (NRC) document in early December 2011 while the US National Research Council released its report on the US research strategy on environmental and health impact of engineered nanomaterials today, Jan. 25, 2012.
(BTW, There”s going to be an alphabet soup situation in this posting with two different NRCs [the catalogue] and the US National Research Council for starters. I’ll do my best to keep these entities distinct from each other.)
The documents represent an interesting contrast regarding approaches to nanomaterials and their risks. From the Jan. 25, 2012 Nanowerk Spotlight article about Denmark’s NanoRiskCat,
The project’s aim was to identify, categorize and rank the possible exposure and hazards associated with a nanomaterial in a product. NanoRiskCat is using a stepwise approach based on existing data on the conventional form of the chemical as well as the data that may exist on the nanoform. However, the tool still needs to be further validated and tested on a series of various nano products in order to adjust and optimize the concept and thereby to achieve a screening tool as informative and practical as possible.
Meanwhile, here’s the description of the US NRC’s latest report, from the Jan. 25, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,
Despite extensive investment in nanotechnology and increasing commercialization over the last decade, insufficient understanding remains about the environmental, health, and safety aspects of nanomaterials. Without a coordinated research plan to help guide efforts to manage and avoid potential risks, the future of safe and sustainable nanotechnology is uncertain, says a new report (“A Research Strategy for Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nanomaterials“)from the National Research Council. The report presents a strategic approach for developing research and a scientific infrastructure needed to address potential health and environmental risks of nanomaterials. Its effective implementation would require sufficient management and budgetary authority to direct research across federal agencies.
I find it interesting that the US government which has poured billions into its National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is still trying to develop a research strategy for environmental and health impacts while the Danish (who have likely spent far less and, to be fair, likely have less bureaucracy) have created an assessment tool designed to evaluate the exposure to and hazards posed by nanomaterials found in consumer and industrial use.
One other interesting tidbit, both the Danish and the US Environmental Protection Agencies (EPAs) were instigators of their country’s respective documents. The Danish EPA was one of the three funders (the other two were the Danish Technical University and the National Research Centre for the Working Environment) for their NanoRiskCat. The US EPA was one of the sponsors for the strategy report. The other sponsors include the The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council.
I have to admit I’m getting a little tired of strategy documents and I’m please to see an attempt to evaluate the situation. I’m not sure which version (alpha or beta) of the tool they’ve released but there’s definitely some tweaking to be done as the Danes themselves admit,
It is the view of the Danish EPA that the traffic light ranking [I'm assuming they assign a colour [red, amber, yellow] as a means of quickly identifying a risk level in their documentation of specific nanomaterials) of the health effects may be further modified to obtain a better ranking in the various categories. Thus titanium dioxide in sunscreen is ranked as red due to lung effects of titanium dioxide, because the tool in its present form does not sufficiently take account of which type of health effects that are most relevant for the most relevant exposure route of the product. In this case the inhalational exposure of titanium dioxide from a sun screen seems less relevant.
Yes, I agree that exposure to nanoscale titanium dioxide via inhalation is an unlikely when you’re using a nanosunscreen. Although given some folks I’ve known, it’s not entirely out of the question. (It’s been my experience that people will inhale anything if they think they can get high from it.)