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By Sam Pearson
Sept. 14 — Federal authorities released the latest blueprint for managing nanotechnology research and development, including funding for research on how the emerging industry affects worker health and safety.
The draft document, which sets out goals for developing and commercializing the technology and was released Sept. 12, is largely unchanged from previous versions. The plan, which is required under the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, sets policy for the White House-led National Nanotechnology Initiative for the next three years across 20 departments and independent agencies.
The plan, when it takes effect next year, will replace a previous strategic plan issued in March 2014. Research spurred by the initiative’s priorities could eventually aid the understanding of the worker safety and environmental health implications of nanotech materials.
“A lot of advances have been made in this field, especially in our ability to characterize engineered nanomaterials and that is enabling us to do a better job of helping to protect workers and to protect the public [and] ultimately understand what the risks are,” said Michael Meador, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.
The same four goals remain: advancing nanotechnology research and development, fostering technology transfer of new technologies to commercial and public projects, developing educational and workforce resources, and supporting the responsible development of nanotechnology.
Member agencies “feel strongly that things are working well,” Meador told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 14.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published a notice of availability in the Federal Register on Sept. 13.
The plan will help spur new innovations that “promise to improve human health and quality of life, enhance the U.S. economy, boost job creation, and strengthen our national defense,” the initiative said in a statement Sept. 12.
The initiative’s spending on health and safety issues has remained fairly stable in recent years.
The initiative requested $100.1 million for environment, health and safety research in fiscal year 2017, according to its most recent budget request. Of those funds, $21.6 million would go to the National Science Foundation, the largest share, while the National Institutes of Health would receive $21 million and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health would receive $11 million.
The environment and health spending is about 7 percent of the initiative’s total budget, an increase from 4.8 percent in fiscal year 2011 and just 2.8 percent in fiscal year 2006. When combined with related spending in other sectors, the total is about 10 percent of the budget, the document states.
“There’s significant potential positive aspects of this, but we need those to be managed in a mature way to ensure that we’re not bringing about something that’s so profound without any laws in place,” Ian Illuminato, a health and environment consultant at Friends of the Earth, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 12, “which has so far been what’s happening.”
Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups have pushed for tougher evaluations of the potential health risks of nanotech products.
Other agencies are taking a closer look.
The Environmental Protection Agency has worked to decide if nanoscale substances and materials pose a greater health risk than other types of chemicals, in part by proposing that companies disclose more health and safety data on the chemicals.
And the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in its budget request for fiscal year 2017, proposed doubling its nanotechnology investments and launching a new EHS research center with NIOSH.
In a statement to Bloomberg BNA Sept. 12, Jay West, head of the Nanotechnology Panel of the American Chemistry Council, said the group planned to examine the proposal.
“NNI’s strong, continued emphasis on responsible development is appreciated, especially as the world is seeing nanotechnology as a truly enabling, transformative technology,” West said. “We also recognize the interconnected, synergistic nature of NNI plan’s goals.”
The NNI is accepting public comments on the plan through Sept. 23. The final report should be released by the end of the year, Meador said.
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The draft document is available at http://src.bna.com/itp.
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