Advances in ecomaterials. White T, Ferraris C, Yu L, Halada K, Umezawa O, eds. Singapore: Stallion Press, 2005 Jul; 1:222-231
Nanotechnology has been hailed by some as the next technological revolution, and is poised to impact on every aspect of our lives. Through the manipulation of matter at near atomic scales, the technology is enabling remarkable progress in many fields to produce new materials, structures and devices with unique and truly innovative properties. Although predominately at the laboratory and pre-commercial stage, nanotechnology-based commercial products are already available, ranging from nano-composites to stain-resistant clothing, and the global market for nanoproducts is projected to grow substantially over the next decade (Lux Research 2004). As with all new technologies, exploiting the behaviour of nanomaterials and devices introduces the potential for unique and unforeseen health and environmental impacts. Recently, a joint report of the United Kingdom Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineers emphasized the need to address the potential health and environmental impact of nanotechnology (The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering 2004). This report stressed that, while not all nanomaterials are of concern, potential impacts of human exposure to and the release of nanometer-diameter particles into the environment require close scrutiny. Based on limited published research data associated with the human and eco-toxicity of nanostructured particles, a number of additional reports and publications have emphasized the need to address the potential implications of engineered nanomaterials on human health and the environment if nanotechnology is to be developed and applied in a responsible manner (Aitken et. al. 2004; Hood 2004; Luther 2004). The development of a responsible and sustainable nanotechnology that has the potential to benefit society is dependent on addressing the possible negative impacts, while maintaining public trust. Critical issues include understanding the potential hazards associated with engineered nanomaterials, the probability of material release and dispersion in a biologically accessible form, exposure and dose, material persistence in the environment and organisms, and approaches to controlling and limiting material release and exposure. This paper focuses specifically on the potential impact of engineered nanomaterials on human health, with an emphasis on inhalation exposure.