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Nanotechnology Research

Nanomaterials EPA is Assessing

Uses of Nanomaterials: treated wood, sunscreen, and flat screen TVs

Nanomaterials are being used in more than 500 consumer products and the number is expected to grow. By 2015, it is estimated that consumer products with nanotechnology applications will value $1 trillion on the world market.

EPA has identified types of nanomaterials for investigation that are widely used in products or have been recognized for their potential to be used. The materials selected were based on analyses by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and EPA. EPA research will determine the possible effects these nanomaterials have on human health and ecosystem health. Specifically, research will determine if there are environmental hazard and how these materials may be modified or managed to avoid potential human health or ecosystem effects.

  • Carbon Nanotubes: Carbon materials have a wide range of uses, ranging from composites for use in vehicles and sports equipment, to integrated circuits for electronic components. The interactions between nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and natural organic matter strongly influence both their aggregation and deposition which strongly affects their transport, transformation and exposure in aquatic environments. In past research, carbon nanotubes exhibited some toxicological impacts that will be evaluated in various environmental settings in current EPA chemical safety research.EPA research will provide data, models, test methods and best practices to discover the acute health effects of carbon nanotubes and identify methods to predict them.
  • Cerium oxide: Nanoscale cerium oxide is used in electronics, biomedical supplies, energy and fuel additives. Many applications of engineered cerium oxide nanoparticles naturally disperse themselves into the environment, which increases the risk of exposure.  There is ongoing exposure to new diesel emissions using fuel additives containing CeO2 nanoparticles, and the environmental and public health impacts of this new technology are unknown. EPA’s chemical safety research is assessing the environmental, ecological, and health implications of nanotechnology-enabled diesel fuel additives.
  • Titanium dioxide: Nano titanium dioxide is currently used in many products. Depending on the type of particle, it may be found in sunscreens, cosmetics, and paints and coatings. It is also being investigated for use in removing contaminants from drinking water.
  • Nano Silver: Nano silver is being incorporated into textiles and other materials to eliminate bacteria and odor from clothing, food packaging, and other items where antimicrobial properties are desirable. In collaboration with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, EPA is studying certain products to see if they transfer nano-sized silver particles in real-world scenarios. EPA is researching this topic to better understand how much nano-silver children come in contact with in their environments.
  • Iron: While nano-scale iron is being investigated for many uses, including “smart fluids” for uses such as optics polishing and as a better-absorbed iron nutrient supplement, one of its more prominent current uses is to remove contamination from groundwater. This use, supported by EPA research, is being piloted at a number of sites across the country.
  • Micronized Copper: EPA is working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to evaluate if there are any potential human and environmental effects from exposure to micronized copper.