Environmental health and safety of engineered nanomaterials: Challenges and State of Science

The incorporation of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in nano-enabled products (NEPs) is growing exponentially. Increased manufacturing and availability of nano-enabled products (NEPs) has inevitably raised concerns about the emission or release of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) during assembly, consumer usage and eventually recycling or disposal. With nano- release scenarios on the rise, it is evident that the environmental health and safety (EHS) implications associated with ENM release require development of risk assessment and exposure control strategies. Although the momentum to provide accurate exposure data for risk assessments has progressed, the current nano-risk assessment paradigm focuses primarily on the properties of pristine ENMs used in the synthesis of NEPs rather than the actual properties of the particulate matter released across the NEP life cycle. Indeed, the potential for exposure from such life cycle particulate matter (LCPM) may exceed that of pristine ENMs at occupational and consumer levels. Importantly, evidence indicating that the physico-chemical properties and toxicological profiles of LCPM may differ greatly from those of pristine ENMs is escalating. Life cycle specific exposure data gaps constitute major roadblocks for risk assessors and regulators, prohibiting the sustainable development of the nanotechnology industry. There is an urgent need to understand life cycle specific release/exposure scenarios for families of NEPs and assess potential EHS implications. In toto, revisiting the current risk assessment paradigm and developing all necessary tools and approaches to enable comprehensive risk assessment to include life cycle specific risks from NEPs is of paramount importance for the nanosafety field.

watsonChrista Watson Wright, Ph.D. is an Alonzo Yerby Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) in Boston, Massachusetts. She obtained her doctorate in Energy and Environmental Systems from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina in 2011. In her four years at Harvard, she has been dedicated to uncovering the novel toxicities of engineered nanomaterials and chemical inhalation exposures to reduce potential public health hazards. She is a member of the Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology or Harvard NanoCenter, which aims to address unique environmental health and safety concerns raised by engineered nanomaterials and nanotechnology applications. Within the NanoCenter, her research focus has been on the genotoxicity of metal oxide engineered nanoparticles (ENPs), the development of high throughput/high content screening assays, and nanosafety.