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2012 EPA Research Progress Report

Ensuring Safe Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials

Lumber may be treated with products containing copper nanomaterials.

Nanomaterials are materials between one and 100 nanometers in size (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter). These tiny materials often exhibit unique properties that are different from those of the same substances in a larger size, and have been tapped for manufacturing processes and for applications in paint, cosmetics, treated wood, electronics, and other products. And while nanomaterials offer important benefits, they may also present risks.

EPA is leading scientific efforts to understand the potential risks to humans and the environment from nanomaterials including the following.

  • Collaborating on Nano-copper: As part of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, EPA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are collaborating in a worldwide effort to assess the effects of nanomaterials. Joint research includes exploring the potential human and environmental effects from exposure to copper nanomaterials used in wood treatment products for decks and fences.
  • EPA Case Study: Nanosilver in Disinfectant Spray

    In 2012, EPA released Nanomaterial Case Study: Nanoscale Silver in Disinfectant Spray.

    The case study was conducted to support research planning efforts for nanomaterials such as the studies mentioned previously. Researchers considered nanosilver in disinfectant sprays across the entire lifecycle of products, including how they are produced, shipped, stored, used, and disposed of or recycled. The report presents information about how nanosilver materials and waste byproducts might move and change before coming into contact with people and other organisms, and the potential impacts of exposures in these populations.

    For more information, and to download a copy of the report, see: http://1.usa.gov/W0o7v0.

  • Children’s Exposure: Another part of the EPA-CPSC collaboration focuses on the potential exposure of children to nanoparticles. Of particular interest is nanosilver, which can prevent the growth of some bacteria or fungi and is sometimes used in the manufacturing of children’s toys. Researchers are developing the tools, approaches, and protocols needed to determine if nanosilver is released from children’s products under real-world conditions. Preliminary study results on 13 products indicate that the silver levels to which children may potentially be exposed during normal product use is low.
  • Nanosilver: To investigate potential health risks of nanosilver in everyday products such as body soap, laundry detergent, and toothpaste, scientists from EPA and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, researched the changes that occur when nanosilver interacts with the acidic environment of a synthetic human stomach.

Results showed that nanomaterials could alter the amount of silver that is absorbed by the body. Researchers further developed methods and standard test procedures for characterizing the physical and chemical properties that influence the health risks associated with nanosilver.

EPA researchers also released the document: Nanomaterial Case Study: Nanoscale Silver in Disinfectant Spray (see sidebar).

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