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Nanotechnology Research

Exposure Health Effects Research

Issue
Nanomaterials have become widely used in products ranging from clothing (which incorporates bacteria-fighting nano Silver) to sunscreen. Nanomaterials are very useful, but there is little research about how nanomaterials affect human health. Since nanomaterials are much smaller than normal (about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair), they are absorbed more easily by people’s lungs and skin.  EPA is in the process of researching how nanomaterials interact with biological processes important to human health. To accomplish this, EPA researchers are identifying the unique make up (properties) of nanomaterials that regulate their reactivity, interactions with important biological processes and toxicity.

Picture of a family taking a nature walk in the woods

Action
EPA researchers are developing methods, models and guidelines to:

  • Assess, rank and predict with greater certainty the acute and chronic nanomaterial health effects using rapid, automated chemical screening called high-throughput and high-content testing methods.
  • Inform green nano-chemistry/engineering and identify alternative, “greener” nanomaterials.
  • Identify adverse outcome pathways (AOPs), their key events and dose concentrations for specific nanomaterial health effects.
  • Identify susceptibility factors influencing nanomaterial deposition, fate and toxicity.

Results & Impact
The results of this research will allow risk assessment of nanomaterials at multiple levels and will provide:

  • Qualified and credible alternative testing methods that can be used to predict toxicity.
  • A database of hazard identification or structure-activity relationships that can be used to either design or engineer nanomaterials to eliminate any adverse health effects.
  • Unique properties of nanomaterials, adverse outcome pathways, modes of action and biological mechanisms that nanomaterials interact with that can predict toxicity and provide a means to address stakeholder needs in a timely manner. 

These efforts will allow nanomaterials and nanotechnology to develop in a responsible and sustainable manner.