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Obama Asks Congress To Boost Nano Safety $$
by Gwyneth K. Shaw | Feb 17, 2012 2:22 pm
Posted to: Environment, Nanotech, Science/ Medical
(NHI Nanoblog) President Obama’s newly-minted budget request would increase funding for a number of efforts to promote the development of nanotechnology—and safeguard the health of people, animals and the environment.
Those details are visible in the budget request from the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a White House-driven project that is supposed to coordinate activities among a broad variety of federal agencies, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Commerce. The president’s FY2013 budget proposal, released earlier this week, requests just under $1.8 billion for work related to the NNI, a 4 percent increase over its FY2012 budget.
A budget breakdown released by the NNI, detailing spending across the 25 agencies in the consortium, shows a request for $105 million for FY2013 for safety-related research and activities, a slight bump over the $102.7 million budgeted for FY2012. In a sign that the federal government is making health and safety efforts a priority, that $105 million represents a 20 percent increase from FY2011 spending.
The remaining $1.7 billion would go towards fostering innovation for new applications, as well as public education and outreach, a small increase over the prior year.
If Congress approves it, that money would go toward an array of research and development efforts, including those focused on health and safety. The NNI released a blueprint for those efforts late last year; many of the priorities were echoed in a National Academies of Science report on nanotechnology that came out last month. That report also called for spending more on protecting the public and the environment.
By leveraging the often-amazing properties of ultra-tiny materials, nanotechnology can make airplane wings stronger and help cancer treatments ruthlessly target the bad cells. But as nano-enabled products proliferate—in everything from sunscreen to humidifiers—there’s a big gap between what’s possible and what’s been tested for safety. The smaller versions of these materials often interact differently with the world around them than their larger-scale counterparts, raising serious questions about their impact on health and the environment.
The NNI’s breakdown shows a $9.9 million request for the Department of Commerce, through the National Institute of Standards and Technology. NIST is playing an increasingly active role in assessing the safety of nanomaterials, including studies of nano-infused plastics and the development of a reference material for carbon nanotubes.
The NNI breakdown shows a $19.3 million request for nano-safety-oriented activities at the EPA. The agency’s budget plan includes $4 million for “sustainable molecular design research.” According to the agency, the money will be used “to generate the critical information needed by manufacturers to develop inherently safer processes and products that minimize or eliminate the associated adverse impacts on human health and the environment that could result from the manufacturing, use, and disposal of chemicals, including nanomaterials.”
The agency is also earmarking $2 million to establish a Center for Innovative Estuarine Approaches, which will include studies of the impact of nanomaterials on waterways. The EPA is also asking for an additional $11 million over 2012 for chemical safety programs, including work on reviewing and managing new chemicals—a key component of its oversight of nanomaterials.
The Food and Drug Administration’s proposal hints at a number of potential changes involving nano-enabled products. While the agency’s proposal doesn’t attach specific numbers to nano-related initiatives, it highlights efforts to decipher the risks associated with food packaging, cosmetics, dietary supplements and other consumer products that are already on the market.
According to the NNI breakdown, about $11 million of the FDA’s request is designated for nanotechnology health and safety research.
The proposal also lists a $10 million request for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in the nano-safety realm. NIOSH has been a leader in safety initiatives involving nanotechnology and workplace safety: the agency has proposed recommendations to severely limit exposure to carbon nanotubes in manufacturing settings, and has suggested that nano-titanium dioxide be labeled a “possible occupational carcinogen.”
The National Science Foundation, which makes grants for research and funds an array of outreach programs on nanotechnology, is requesting $29.9 million for environmental health and safety efforts. The National Institutes of Health, which mostly funds research—much of it in academic settings—is requesting $20.2 million.
Of course, the budget proposals now move to the Capitol, where there is unlikely to be much appetite for budget increases—even those offset by cuts in other programs—in an election year that’s largely being defined by the economy. Nanotechnology does have its legislative champions; the question is whether their efforts will extend to the needs of safety researchers.
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