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Nanotechnology: The Big News is Small

Release Date: 01/28/2008
Contact Information: Suzanne Ackerman, (202)564-4355 / ackerman.suzanne@epa.gov

(Washington, D.C. – January 28, 2008) Americans are famous for building big: the tallest sky scraper, the biggest jet, the widest plasma TV screen. But now U.S. entrepreneurs are considering thinking small. Nanotechnology uses particles 80,000 times smaller than a human hair; yet the new technology has the potential to quickly clean up pollution, cure serious illnesses, and make the computer silicon chip obsolete. While EPA looks forward to new environmental breakthroughs, the Agency’s first commitment is to protect human health and the environment. Therefore EPA has awarded 21 grants totaling $7.34 million to universities to investigate potential adverse health and environmental effects of manufactured nanomaterials.

The grants were awarded through EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grants program in partnership with the National Science Foundation's (NSF), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) who awarded another eight grants for a total of 29. Nine of the grants focus on potential toxicity, and 12 grants study the fate and transport of nanomaterials in the environment.

"Nanotechnology is an exciting new field with the potential to transform environmental protection. But it is critical to know whether nanomaterials could negatively impact health or the environment,” said George Gray, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “By performing research on potential adverse affects, EPA is doing what is right for both human and environmental health and technological progress.”

Today, EPA is initiating a Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to gather and develop key information from manufacturers, importers, processors and users of engineered chemical nanoscale materials. The information gathered through the stewardship program will be invaluable in furthering EPA’s understanding of potential risks and benefits of these nanoscale materials.

EPA further works with agencies in other countries on nanotechnology health and safety research. The Agency is part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) effort to promote international cooperation in health and environmental safety related aspects of manufactured nanomaterials,

List of awardees: http://es.epa.gov/ncer/nano/2008recipients.html

The grants funded by EPA were awarded to the following universities:

Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz., $398,998 – Determine whether bacteria used at wastewater treatment plants can effectively remove nanoparticles from sewage, concentrate nanoparticles into biosolids and/or possibly transform nanoparticles as they move through the processing system.

Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz., $399,768 -- Develop a method for evaluating the potential risks of bioaccumulation of manufactured nanomaterials in aquatic organisms.

Battelle, Pacific Northwest Division, Seattle, Wash., $200,000 -- Study how nanoscale particles interact with cells when they are inhaled.

University of California, Santa Barbara, Calif., $399,986 -- Discover the processes that could allow manmade nanoparticles to enter cells and possibly cause toxicity in a variety of bacteria and other single-celled organisms.

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., $400,000 -- Determine the effect of common nanoparticle surface coatings on nano-iron reactivity, mobility, fate, and effect on soil bacteria.

Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colo., $389,997 -- Determine whether manufactured nanomaterials that contain metals pose a risk to aquatic organisms.

Columbia University, New York, N.Y., $200,000 -- Describe the life-cycle environmental profile of nanomaterials that are candidates for use in photovoltaic or solar power applications.

University of Delaware, Newark, Del., $399,035 – Develop an understanding of the fate of manmade nanoparticles released into subsurface environments.

University of Georgia Research Foundation, Athens, Ga., $397,009 -- Study the impact of metal nanoparticles on food webs, and the transfer ability of these toxins depending on their particle size and chemical composition.

University of Maine, Orono, ME, $398,298 -- Determine the toxicity of semiconductor nanostructures, their impact on the environment, and the potential health risks in living organisms involved with bioaccumulation of the substances.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., $371,886 -- Provide fundamental information about the movement, fate and bioavailability of manmade, carbon nanotubes under different environmental conditions.

University of Missouri, Colombia, Mo., $399,507 -- Investigate the potential toxicity of manmade, carbon nanotubes on bottom-dwelling organisms in aquatic ecosystems.

University of North Carolina, Charlotte, N.C., $399,843 -- Determine the toxicity of manmade, metal nanoparticles on marine organisms.

North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., $391,617 -- Describe the impacts of manmade nanomaterials on skin absorption and evaluate their safety and risk.

New York University, Tuxedo, N.Y., $399,827 -- Study the possible biological effects of manufactured nanoparticles in waste streams that contaminate aquatic environments.

Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., $199,993 -- Determine the mechanisms by which manufactured nanomaterials damage or kill cells in realistic environments of exposure.

Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., $400,000 -- Develop a system to rapidly assess the toxicity of manmade, industrial nanomaterials.

Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $199,990 -- Investigate how manmade nanomaterials change or transform under certain environmental conditions.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn., $396,807 -- Study the effects of an industrial nanomaterial, C60 fullerenes, as a contaminant in aquatic ecosystems.

University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, $200,000 -- Investigate whether ingested nanoparticles are taken up by inflamed colon cells, move to the cell nucleus, and cause alteration of gene transcription.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wis., $398,810 -- Assess how the immune system of rainbow trout responds to manufactured nanomaterials.

EPA relies on quality science as the basis for sound policy and decision-making. EPA’s laboratories, research centers, and grantees are building the scientific foundation needed to support the Agency’s mission to safeguard human health and the environment.