Launched in 2006, the Environmental Nanoscience Initiative (ENI) will see scientists from the US and UK collaborate on three projects in phase 2. From the Jan. 26, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,
One of the ENI consortia will carry out a risk assessment for manufactured nanoparticles used in consumer products. Earlier research has focused on the toxicities – the degrees to which the nanoparticles can affect organisms – at the source. It has also shown that nanomaterials can affect marine organisms and change the properties of chemicals they come into contact with. For this project the researchers intend to evaluate the effect of the nanoparticles on people and aquatic animals at the point of exposure.
A second research team will investigate how the nanoparticles and nanotubes are transported into sewage treatment systems, into soil, surface waters and sediments, as well as their toxicity and absorption into a range of organisms such as bacteria, algae, invertebrates and fish.
The third group will examine the rate and behaviour of nanomaterials carried into soils used for agriculture and absorbed into plants, bacteria and invertebrates such as worms. They will also be generating new knowledge for use in risk assessment models using a unique pilot-scale waste water treatment facility.
Overall this research will provide key information about whether wildlife and humans are exposed to manufactured nanomaterials, and if so in what form.
The three Phase 2 consortium projects and the institutes involved are:
Risk assessment for manufactured nanoparticles used in consumer products (RAMNUC):
UK – Imperial College, London; Health Protection Agency, Oxfordshire.
USA – University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ; Duke University, Durham, NC.
Consortium for manufactured nanomaterial bioavailability & environmental exposure (nanoBEE):
UK – University of Birmingham; Napier University, Edinburgh; Natural History Museum, London.
USA – Rice University, Houston, TX; Clemson University, SC; University of California, Davis, CA. [emphasis mine]
Transatlantic initiative for nanotechnology and the environment (TINE):
UK – Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire; Cranfield University, Cranfield, Bedfordshire; Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire; Lancaster University, Lancashire.
USA – University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY; Duke University, Durham, NC; Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.
I first came across the news in a Jan. 26, 2011 article in the Houston (Texas) Business Journal which provides more details about the research team that includes professor Vicki Colvin from Rice University,
Colvin, a professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice, is heading up a team of three researchers in the U.S., which is collaborating with three U.K. researchers on the project.
Known as the Nanomaterial Bioavailability and Environmental Exposure Consortia, it will focus on creating a “plug and play” tool for regulators to input information about the size and type of the nanomaterial, local water chemistry, soil types and other factors. Once this data is in the system, regulators will be shown how much of the material could be safely released into a given area.
Coincidentally or not, the ENI announcement was made the same day as the International Standards Organization (ISO) announced a new standard for establishing nanoparticle inhalation toxicity testing. From the Jan. 26, 2011 ISO news release,
Dr. Peter Hatto, Chair of the committee that developed the standard explains, “With the rapid expansion of nanotechnology applications comes a growing risk of exposure to potentially toxic substances, especially for workers in nanotechnology-based industries. Moreover, if airborne nanoparticles were liberated from products, the general public could also be affected. Ensuring the safety of these particles is therefore paramount for the well-being of workers and consumers.”
Carefully monitored tests are used to establish the inhalation toxicity of airborne nanoparticles. The new standard, ISO 10808:2010, Nanotechnologies – Characterization of nanoparticles in inhalation exposure chambers for inhalation toxicity testing, helps ensure that the results of such tests are reliable and harmonized worldwide.
While these projects are distantly related (with the ENI focused on establishing possible risks associated with nanomaterials released into soil and water and the ISO standard focused on developing parameters for standards for testing toxicity when nanoparticles are inhaled), this all suggests that we are learning to assess the impact of nanotechnology-enabled products and processes.