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Nanotech research launched by US and EU

By Rory Harrington , 01-Oct-2009
Last updated the 01-Oct-2009 at 12:52 GMT

The US Government and the European Union have announced separate plans to launch studies into the possible health effects and business implications for nanotechnology.

The statements came as a new survey of US consumers found that 90 per cent of respondents said they urgently wanted more information on nanoscience and how it is to be employed.

Nanotechnology, which harnesses the use of particles between one and 100 nanometers in length, is believed to have huge potential in food processing and packaging. Applications include its use in providing anti-microbial coating s for food contact surfaces or packaging as well as using the technology to engineer sensors to detect pathogens and toxins in food or to register environmental changes.

Nano’s health implications

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlined this week its new research strategy to better understand how manufactured nanomaterials could harm human health and the environment.

The project outlines what studies the body will support in the next several years to find out about the safe use of nanotechnology and products – including food packaging and cosmetics – that contain nano-scale materials. The research will be carried out both by the EPA and external groups who will receive grant funding from the body.

“EPA’s role among federal agencies is to determine the potential hazards of nanotechnology and develop approaches to reduce or minimize any risks identified,” said an EPA statement.

The research will look at the complete life-cycle of nanomaterials – from their manufacture and use to the way they are disposed.

European Union strategy

At the same time the European Union said it would develop a strategy on how best to reap the economic benefits from nanotechnology – declaring the field to be “of exceptional importance for being at the forefront of managing the shift to a low carbon, knowledge-based economy”.

An EC statement added: “Mastering such technologies lays stable foundation for well paid jobs in the EU and allows for sustainable, broadly shared growth.”

The EU said it continued to face “significant obstacles” in delivering “wide and timely deployment” of nanotechnology and admitted that in the past the economic bloc had “not effectively capitalised on its own R&D results”. Expert panels were being put together to map out both short and long-tern strategies, it said.

US survey

As the two announcements were made, a survey found 90 per cent of Americans believe they should be better informed about cutting edge technology such as nanoscience.

The poll of 1001 consumers by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) showed than public awareness of nanotech had stagnated since 2005.

“Historically, government and industry have done a poor job of informing and engaging the public about scientific developments which could have transformative impacts on society,” said David Rejeski, director of PEN. “The poll showed that better communication is needed and could be beneficial in securing the promise of our investments in science.”

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