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New Nanotechnology Review Article Focuses on Environmental Clean-up
Dr. Barbara Karn of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) is lead author on a recently published article in Environmental Health Perspectives entitled Nanotechnology and In Situ Remediation: A Review of the Benefits and Potential Risks. The article was written “to focus on environmental cleanup and provide a background and overview of current practices, research findings, societal issues; potential environment, health and safety implications and future directions for nanoremediation.” What’s unique here is that the article reviews the rapidly emerging discipline of nanotechnology as applied to waste site remediation. “Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications” [National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), 2008]. The National Center for Environmental Research, through its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) competitive grants research program, has funded much of the background research for this article.
While the article clearly is useful for the community desiring an overview and update on applications and implications associated with nanoremediation, it also provides information to managers desiring to apply the technology to their sites. The 76 references cited by the authors provide a plethora of original articles for those seeking in-depth information. Carol Rowan-West, Director of the Office of Research and Standards at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, is distributing the article to the New England Biological Technical Assistance Group and Massachusetts’ Interagency Nanotechnology Workgroup. She said it is a "good teaching tool" that highlights a new remediation technology, the strengths and limitations of nanoremediation, research needs, and the issues associated with effects of nanoparticles on the environment."
One very useful resource developed for the article is the nanoremediation map located on the Web site of the Project on Emerging Technologies, a partnership between the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trust in Washington, DC. The map is a particularly good resource for remediation site managers who are interested in investing in nanotechnology as a tool for cleanup. By clicking on a site icon, information on the location, site type, contaminants treated, and type of nanoparticle appears. All of the sites, which include military installations, manufacturing sites, oil fields, and private properties, are being treated for some form of chlorinated hydrocarbons at a minimum. By providing this site information, the map points the community interested in nanotechnology in the right direction to gather additional information. The nanoremediation map is a living document and will expand as more site information is added. The map is also an important resource for those charged with protecting human health and the environment, since these sites provide in situ laboratories to study the potential risks, persistence, fate and transport, and toxicity of the nanoparticles to local flora and fauna.
The science and application of nanoremediation still is in its infancy. There is great potential to use this technology to clean up contaminated sites, but we need to proceed with caution until the human and environmental effects of nanoparticles are better understood. Continued research in this area will be research dollars well spent.
1. Karn,B, Kuiken T, Otto M. 2009, Nanotechnology and In Situ Remediation: A Review of the Benefits and Potential Risks. Environmental Health Perspectives1 117 (12) 1823-1831
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