Sunday, April 30, 2006

RAND conference calls for regulation of nano workplace

The RAND Corporation, an international think tank, just released a summary of their 2005 conference on occupational hazards related to nanotechnology. This from the press release:

“The U.S. government is providing insufficient funding and other resources to understand and manage risks that nanomaterials pose to the health of workers in the rapidly growing nanotechnology industry, according to participants in a workshop hosted by the RAND Corporation.

RAND today issued a report on the October 2005 workshop that brought together nanotechnology and health experts and representatives from industry, insurance firms, labor unions, and occupational health and safety organizations.”

What is especially interesting about the report are the parallels to lax governmental regulations of asbestos and other materials in the report:

“Although based on substances scientists already understand, nanomaterials essentially are new substances that can have properties that are very different from the bulk forms of the same chemicals. When present as small particles, some of these nanomaterials can penetrate deeply into the lungs, go through the skin, collect in various organs, and even pass through the blood-brain barrier.

According to the RAND report, government resources should focus on assessing the toxicity of nanomaterials, understanding how workers are exposed to such materials, and determining the effectiveness of measures to safeguard the health of workers. The multibillion-dollar investments in nanotechnology being made by private firms and the federal government will continue to be at risk if such steps are not taken, according to workshop participants. “

These concerns also mirror Rick Weiss’s lab rat analogy with respect to nano workplace safety (see nano|public posting from April 10, 2006). Interestingly enough, only about 1% of all federal R&D money has gone toward research relevant to understanding and managing the risks of occupational exposure to nanomaterials.