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Nanotechnology has the potential to transform environmental clean-up, treat serious illnesses and improve computer technology. The U.S. EPA wants to see Americans benefit from this new technology while ensuring that human health and the environment are protected. Therefore, EPA has awarded 14 grants totaling $5 million to universities to investigate potential health and environmental effects of manufactured nanomaterials. By performing research on potential adverse affects, EPA is doing what is right for both human and environmental health and technological progress.
Nanomaterials are created by working at the molecular level, atom by atom, and range in size from one to 100 nanometers. A nanometer is 80,000 times smaller than a human hair. Because of their small size and unique properties, more research is needed to learn if nanoparticles in manufactured products can enter the human body, and if so, how long they remain. Similarly, researchers will study the fate and transport of nanoparticles in the environment.
“This emerging field has the potential to transform environmental protection. Researchers are now testing iron nanoparticles that could clean up pollutants in large areas of groundwater cheaper and more effectively than any existing techniques,” said George Gray, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Research and Development. “At the same time, we must understand whether nanomaterials could negatively impact health or the environment. This research will help determine the viability of nanotechnology as a tool for protecting our environment.”
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA has a program to review and assess new chemicals prior to their entry into commerce. The agency is also working with a wide range of stakeholders to develop a stewardship program that will allow EPA to gain a better understanding of the benefits and risks associated with nanomaterials.
The nanotechnology grants were awarded through EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grants program in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
To date, EPA has funded 65 grants for more than $22 million related to the environmental applications and/or implications of manufactured nanomaterials. In addition, EPA has awarded about $2.5 million for nanotechnology research to small businesses through its Small Business Innovation Research program.