Impact of nanotechnology on the biosphere

In the last three decades, there has been a surge in the application of nanotechnologies to a wide range of human endeavour. Increasing commercialization of solid-state particulate material of nano-scale dimension (nanoparticles) in a growing inventory of biomedical, electronic device-manufacturing, agricultural and common consumer products has brought many advantages to every-day life. However, their unique properties—such as nanosize and high surface reactivity,— seized upon or carefully engineered to render their use so advantageous for many applications may also increase their toxicity to the environment and confer toxicity to humans (through inhalation, ingestion or dermal routes) in the course of their synthesis, use and disposal. Thus, there is a concomitant need to understand and quantify the occupational health, public safety and environmental implications of these now ubiquitous material forms.

Nanoparticulates are not only sourced from a variety of familiar naturally-occurring forms (e.g. carbon black, graphite, talc, clays, diatoms and geological silicas, TiO2 and ZnO powders) but increasingly engineered from targeted materials systems using novel processing routes whose nanoscale products (e.g. carbon-based materials, including nanotubes, fullerenes and grapheme as well as rare-earth oxide particulates, nano-silver, nano-gold, metal oxides, and a variety of nanoscale ceramic and polymeric drug-delivery particles) have not been systematically—or in many cases, never—evaluated for toxic responses. At issue is toxicity to human health and to a wide range of natural and agricultural environments. Due to the enormous number of permutations of nanoparticle shape, dimensions, composition, and surface chemistry, only a fundamental understanding of the critical biological interactions with such particulates can permit a realistic, practical assessment of the risks associated with the wide range of possible product types.

This conference aims to bring together professionals across many disciplines, including medicine, environment, engineering and industry, who are concerned with not only the beneficial uses of nanomaterials, but also the potential health and ecological consequences of the increasing prevalence of nanoparticulate material in the environment. Currently, the uncertainty surrounding engineered nanoparticle safety is a major concern to government, health and environmental agencies, yet there is little or no specific legislation regarding their safe development, levels of exposure and use, possibly reflecting a reluctance to establish barriers to commercial development of products that could potentially provide life-changing advances. There is to date no consensus regarding environmental toxicity engendered by use of nanomaterials. The purpose of this conference is to assimilate and review the current status in our understanding of the fundamental properties of current and new generation nanomaterials and how these might relate to their bioreactivity, translocation and ultimate fate, weighed against the advantages such materials offer. The ability to better anticipate hazard and risk will prevent unwanted outcomes whilst enjoying the societal benefits of a dawning nanotechnology era.

For further details see: www.engconfintl.org/17ax