Lack of nanotechnology safety roadmap hindering companies

10 January 2008

A US survey of New England-based nanotechnology companies has found that these firms lack a clear roadmap of government environmental, health and safety (EHS) expectations and regulations for successful commercialization, as well as the information needed to meet those expectations.

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies conducted the survey to  discover how firms in almost every sector of the economy address the possible environmental, health and safety impacts of new nanoscale materials and products.

In 2006, worldwide investment in nanotechnology topped $12 billion dollars and the value of nanotechnology goods manufactured globally reached $50 billion. But the survey indicates that as nanotech industrial and consumer applications enter the market, US companies need more information and guidance from suppliers, trade associations, government regulatory bodies and others to manage risks effectively.

The report, authored by John Lindberg and Margaret Quinn of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, is drawn from an online survey distributed to 180 managers from nanotechnology firms in Northeast USA, which has one of the greatest concentrations of companies, universities, government laboratories and organizations working on nanotechnology in America. It included in-depth, follow-up interviews with 12 firms.

Lindberg and Quinn found that 80% of large firms were taking steps to manage nanotechnology EHS risks, compared to only 33% of small and micro companies and 12% of firms at start-up stage.

John Lindberg, the principal investigator on the study said, "Many smaller firms recognize the need to address risks proactively, but few have the resources to do so. At present, the majority of survey participants expect to rely on suppliers to provide nanomaterial risk management information in the form of Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). But these do not always reflect the latest health and safety information, and regulatory or consensus guidance for these new materials is lacking."

David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, noted, "The current MSDS for carbon nanotubes sold over the Internet treats them as graphite — the same material used in pencils — despite nanotubes bearing no more than a passing resemblance to this material. Clearly, companies are not being given the guidance they need. The findings from this study are consistent with other surveys of nanotech businesses in California, New York, and around the world. Firms are flying somewhat blind into the future and need a clear set of rules, a sense of the emerging regulatory landscape, and access to relevant research on risks in order to ensure both nanotechnology safety and profits."

1. The report, A Survey of Environmental, Health and Safety Risk Management Information Needs and Practices among Nanotechnology Firms in the Massachusetts Region, is available at:

To top