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October 24, 2016

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IOM celebrates a decade of research into nanotechnology safety

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Scientists at the Scottish SAFENANO centre are celebrating ten years of research dedicated to de-risking innovations in nanotechnology.

As nanotechnology delivers ever broader benefits to multiple facets of society, scientists at the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) have dedicated a decade’s research to the pursuit of nanotechnology safety in order to ‘hallmark’ a number of nanotech breakthroughs as safe and sustainable.

Nanotechnology is science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is typically in the range 1 to 100 nanometres. From the latest advances in medicines and healthcare, to developments in cosmetics, paints, packaging and now 3D printing, the IOM’s SAFENANO team and lab has been de-risking nanotechnology using its unique combination of multi-disciplinary expertise, laboratory skills and state-of-the-art equipment on behalf of enterprises from small start-ups to multi-national corporations.

Dr Steve Hankin, SAFENANO’s Director of Operations leads the team of scientists at the IOM: “Our mission has always been to provide the highest quality expertise to help nanotechnology emerge and develop on a safe and sustainable basis, maximising its commercial potential, through continuous development and improvement of our knowledge, equipment and practice.”

Over the ten years of SAFENANO, IOM scientists have carried out a series of reviews for the UK Government and its agencies including HSE, Defra, the Environment Agency and the Food Standards Agency, and more widely for the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency. These reviews have been instrumental in how today’s approach to nanotechnology risks and regulation have developed.

In parallel with these activities, the growing SAFENANO team developed and launched a suite of lab- and field-based scientific services to support manufacturing and R&D across industry and academic sectors. These included guidance for safe working practices, workplace assessments, characterisation of materials, toxicology testing, risk assessment and training. Today the SAFENANO team delivers its unique range of multidisciplinary services globally to support the use and adoption of nanotechnology in a safe and sustainable way.

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Current large-scale projects where IOM is de-risking nanotechnology innovations include one in which different approaches are being developed for the introduction of nanotechnology into production lines for packaging, automotive applications and photovoltaic materials. Another project is concerned with enhancing the mechanical properties of composites for increased erosion resistance and anti-icing characteristics of materials employed in extreme environments.

Steve: “The landscape has changed substantially over the last 10 years, but major challenges remain. The extensive worldwide research effort has resulted in the generation of a substantial quantity of scientific data on toxicology, exposure and risk. Progress has been made on important topics and there are now many examples of responsible industry practice addressing these risk issues in a proactive way. However, there are many other examples where government, academia and industry have still to fully recognise the extent of the risk issues and have not yet put in place the necessary steps to manage them effectively.  This is crucial as new nanoscale forms of materials continue to be developed to bring technological advantage and benefit over older products.”

In 2012, IOM extended its activities into Asia with the launch of IOM Singapore which has SAFENANO as a major theme within its service offering in the region. Work there has included research for government departments, support to industry and the development of training programmes.

The IOM believes that the major challenge going forward is to ensure that the key aspects of research and best practice find their way into responsible innovation and effective governance of nanotechnology and other emerging technologies where uncertainty and risk are at play. “We therefore continue on our mission” adds Steve.

For further information about IOM’s SAFENANO centre, please visit www.safenano.org.

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