The federal government needs an improved plan and additional funding to assess the environmental and health risks posed by nanomaterials, a National Research Council panel said in a report released today.
The report warns that despite the growing prevalence of nanomaterials in consumer goods, relatively little is known about their health effects.
"There has not been sufficient linkage between research and research findings and the creation of strategies to prevent and manage any risks," the panel said. "Little progress has been made on the effects of ingested nanomaterials on human health and other potential health and environmental effects of complex nanomaterials that are expected to enter the market over the next decade."
Nanomaterials are approximately 100,000 times thinner than a strand of hair. They are increasingly common on products ranging from cosmetics to bicycles to paint and infant pacifiers. The National Research Council's panel predicted that the market for nanomaterials will grow to $3 trillion by 2015.
The report, which was sponsored by U.S. EPA, calls for a new research strategy that is independent of any stakeholder group. The strategy, the panel wrote, should focus on human health primarily by building on past efforts.
It should be broken up into four focus areas: identifying nanomaterials being released and who is affected by them; understanding processes that affect both potential hazards and exposure; examining how nanomaterials interact with ecosystems; and supporting research on the materials.
The report comes on the heels of an EPA inspector general report earlier this month that said the agency lacks an effective program to collect information and assess health risks posed by nanomaterials (Greenwire, Jan. 3).
The panel also said that any reduction in the current $120-million-per-year funding level for nanomaterial research would be a step in the wrong direction. Further, it called for "additional modest resources" from public, private and international sources.
Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the National Research Council's report is another example of why more needs to be done to assess nanomaterials.
"The federal agencies have been told repeatedly to put more money into health and environmental impact research," Sass said. "The [panel] is telling the federal agencies to put enough resources into research on impacts to catch up with research that promotes nanomaterials. Are the federal agencies waiting for some nano-induced health disaster, when it's too late?"
The report does commend the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which coordinates federal investments on the topic, but says there are significant structural problems with how NNI is organized. Specifically, NNI lacks a budgetary or management authority to direct research. That, the panel said, "hinders its accountability for effective implementation."
Further, the panel expressed concern that NNI serves two potentially conflicting roles: promoting nanotechnology while trying to mitigate the risk associated with it.
Só gostaria de alertar que aqui no Brasil, e já venho dizendo isso há algum tempo, não há o menor interesse em se destacar verbas públicas para avaliação de riscos em Nanotecnologia.
Fazendo com que os recursos (ainda que poucos em relação ao montante lá fora) cheguem para a pesquisa e elaboração de produtos. Mas e a questão do risco? E a avaliação das agências reguladoras como a Anvisa, ANP, ANS, ANA, bem como a autarquia federal Inmetro e outras para a aferição correta e segura de que o produto colocado na prateleira esteja com todas as condições de segurança?
Será que devemos esperar uma tragédia insalubre para que percebamos que há perigo no uso incorreto e não avaliado das nanotecnologias?
Mesmo se for exagero e que lá na frente se descubra que todo esse alvoroço por regulação e nanotoxicologia foi exacerbado, devemos agir agora! Pois não queremos um desastre como ocorre com os vazamentos de petróleo e afins, bem como das tragédias nucleares.
Isso se chama precaução. Em detrimento do lucro desmesurado deve-se primar pela proteção dos utentes.
O Brasil precisa se engajar para criar um Laboratório de avaliação de riscos em nanotecnologia.