Nanotechnology is a rapidly expanding field featuring interdisciplinary teams of physicists, chemists, engineers and material scientists that strive to control matter at the atomic and molecular scale in order to develop products with innovative and useful properties. In Canada, several provincial and national centres, offices, and initiatives have been recently established to identify, promote, and facilitate nanotechnology enterprises. These initiatives focus primarily on new nanomaterial development, application, and production. However, there is no similar effort to coordinate research, industry, and government departments concerned with the possible environmental nanotoxicity and/or nanosafety of these materials.
Engineered nanomaterials are specifically engineered particles ranging in size from 1 nm to 100 nm. Currently, there are over 800 nano-related products in the marketplace. It is inevitable that these and other products of nanotechnology will interact with the environment either during their production or at the ends of their life cycles. It is possible that the novel physicochemical characteristics of nanoparticles (NPs) may be associated with novel biological and toxicological activities. As a result, the nanotechnology industry is increasingly concerned about the possible ecotoxicological hazards related to NP release in the environment and regulators are concerned about knowledge gaps in the ability to detect the potential effects of these materials.
Greg Goss (University of Alberta) and Geoff Sunahara (NRC-Biotechnology Research Institute), along with a strong, interdisciplinary team of researchers from academia, NRC institutes, and industry, have recently been awarded a grant from the NRC-NSERC-BDC Nanotechnology Initiative. This grant, entitled “New Technologies and Strategies for Assessment of Manufactured Nanomaterial Toxicity” draws on individuals from across Canada and across areas of expertise – from chemistry to physiology to risk assessment analysis. This research aims to identify and understand the ecotoxicological effects of NPs and to provide sound science from which regulators can develop policies for industry. The Office of Enviornmental NanoSafety has recently been established at the University of Alberta to coordinate this exchange of information between researchers and regulators.
The Office of Environmental NanoSafety website serves several purposes and audiences.
- This site serves as a resource to industry to inform them of the nanotechnology research capacity in Canada.
- It contains an index of nano-companies and research groups involved in environmental health and safety research in Canada.
- It acts as a non-governmental sources of information on environmental nanotoxicology/nanosafety issues in Canada for both interested media and the public.