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Science Policy, Outcomes and Nanoparticles


Troy Benn presented a paper entitled, Fate and transport of ionic and nanoparticle silver released from commercially available socks at the Empa Akademie nanoECO conference in Ascona Switzerland.

The application of nanotechnology in many consumer products1 makes it now possible to begin quantifying the exposure of our surroundings to engineered nanomaterials. Manufacturers of clothing articles (e.g., socks) employ nanosilver (n-Ag) as an antimicrobial agent to minimize the microbial growth that causes foot odor. However, the impacts to human health and various ecosystems from the release of n-Ag from commercial products are unknown2-4. A need exists for qualitative analyses of n-Ag released from consumer products to evaluate the risk of this new commercial market.

Address Goals

With over 500 consumer products (cosmetics, clothing, electronics, pharmaceuticals, etc.) containing some type of engineered nanoparticle, the potential exists for these nanomaterials to enter the environment sometime during the product life cycle. As methods for regulation of these nanomaterials are being formulated in government agencies, an opportunity has come for IGERT Fellow Benn to conduct research that is relevant to policy outcomes. An open dialog between policy makers and students could expedite the data gathering process necessary for establishing effective policy measures. For example, clothing material manufacturers utilize nanosilver for its antimicrobial effects, yet it is unclear if policy should regulate such products to protect the health of our environment from excessive silver concentrations. In order to evaluate risk, policy makers have expressed a need for analytical techniques to quantify and characterize nanomaterials released into environmental matrices from consumer products. Graduate student researchers can develop these techniques and then determine the pathways in which consumer nanomaterials might contaminate the environment. In this way, the graduate student can design a research program that is relevant to the social advancement of nanotechnology.

The successful integration of a graduate research project with policy could set a precedent for IGERTs. This parallels the NSF’s objective for producing graduate students with interdisciplinary skills through the IGERT program. With respect to environmental engineering, this research will provide an analytical technique that can be used in aquatic toxicology studies, environmental monitoring, and wastewater treatment of nanomaterials investigations, to name only a few. In regards to nanotech policy, this research will provide quantities of consumer nanomaterials that could be released into the environment to aid in risk assessment.