Safe manufacture and use of nanotechnology gets a boost

The blackest material known to man, a nanotube-based coating, will help scientists see into darkest space
Promo image Surrey NanoSystems

They're everywhere. Nanoparticles are added to your underwear, in your skin-care products, and even featured at the 2018 Olympics.

Nanotechnology does offer great promise and amazing benefits. The blackest black coating shown in the image, and generating talk after it was featured at the Olympics, may help scientists to see deeper into space and better understand our universe. Nanotechnology could make solar panels work in the dark, generate electricity in our clothing, and create new materials that will change the resources we have to protect our environment.

But they may also stop sperm growth, cross into the placenta, or cause mutations that may dramatically impact our environment. But they are barely regulated - largely because they are not well understood; many are even perfectly safe materials which have utterly different effects at nano scale.

It would be wrong to abandon this nascent science out of fear. But it is also wrong to rush into using materials with unknown risks widely among consumers or in a manner with a large release to the environment. It is certainly a travesty to push nanoparticles into products as a marketing gimmick, or to use nanotechnology where a perfectly good alternative currently available can be used without the uncertainties. Adequately assessing the risks, balancing the benefits, and controlling the sustainability of nanotechnology is of interest to businesses both small and large, to regulators, and to the insurance industry.

A new tool has now been released to help all those proceeding in the nanotechnology sector to manage their development more safely, and to protect their investments with a better assurance that the products being developed will not be banned by regulators, rejected by fearful consumers, or costed out of the market as lawsuits related to damages pile up.

This tool, called SUNDS for SUstainable Nanotechnology Decision Support system, will structure the participants' risk assessment process. The development and validation of SUNDS has itself resulted in the accumulation of a lot of knowledge and scientific data about the safety and exposures to nanomaterials. But the tool also suggests methods to control the risks of nano-products which can be used even where the available data is not yet sufficient to prove the safety of the product.

It can provide an overview of whether the benefits outweigh the risks. It also integrates questions that lead businesses into a robust management system for risks, based on established standards such as CENARIOS (Certifiable Nanospecific Risk-Management and Monitoring System)®.

As nanotechnology provides darkness the like of which has never been seen before, let us also provide light on the question of where this new technology can be used for good without unacceptable risks. The SUNDS platform boosts progress towards safer, sustainable nanotechnology.

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