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Transatlantic partners to analyse environment and health risks of manufactured nanomaterials

21 January 2011

Manufactured nanomaterials are becoming big business for producers of consumer goods, but they could also bring uncertain risks to health and the environment.

Now, for the first time, scientists from both sides of the Atlantic are joining forces to discover what these risks might be, and provide the scientific evidence base needed to inform government and industry policies.

In phase 2 of the Environmental Nanoscience Initiative (ENI), which was first launched in 2006 and includes funding from BBSRC among others, scientists from the UK and USA will collaborate on three major research projects. The ENI's UK partners and the US Environmental Protection Agency have jointly invested more than £7M (over US$ 11M) in this research.

Dr Pamela Kempton, Head of Research at the UK Natural Environment Research Council, said: "I am delighted that the UK and USA are collaborating on this important research programme. Nanotechnologies can revolutionise society. Manufactured nanomaterials are already used in a wide range of consumer products, such as clothing, cosmetics and domestic cleaning materials. They could provide new solutions for renewable energy and efficient carbon capture, improve diagnostic systems in healthcare, or lead to better water treatment facilities.

"But we need to know much more about their potential effects on people, animals and plants, which is why this new research is so important."

One of the ENI consortia will carry out a risk assessment for manufactured nanoparticles used in consumer products. Earlier research has focused on the toxicities - the degrees to which the nanoparticles can affect organisms - at the source. It has also shown that nanomaterials can affect marine organisms and change the properties of chemicals they come into contact with. For this project the researchers intend to evaluate the effect of the nanoparticles on people and aquatic animals at the point of exposure.

A second research team will investigate how the nanoparticles and nanotubes are transported into sewage treatment systems, into soil, surface waters and sediments, as well as their toxicity and absorption into a range of organisms such as bacteria, algae, invertebrates and fish.

The third group will examine the rate and behaviour of nanomaterials carried into soils used for agriculture and absorbed into plants, bacteria and invertebrates such as worms. They will also be generating new knowledge for use in risk assessment models using a unique pilot-scale waste water treatment facility.

Overall this research will provide key information about whether wildlife and humans are exposed to manufactured nanomaterials, and if so in what form.

The research is being jointly funded by:

  • The UK's Natural Environment Research Council
  • Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council
  • Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council
  • Medical Research Council, Department for Environment
  • Food and Rural Affairs
  • The Department of Health and the Environment Agency
  • US Environmental Protection Agency

ENDS

Notes for editors

The Environmental Nanoscience Initiative was first launched in the UK in 2006. The first phase received a huge amount of research interest and 17 projects were funded. These projects started to address some of the many questions surrounding the use of nanoparticles. The second phase, which is a UK-USA collaboration, is about to begin.

About the Phase 2 consortium projects

The three Phase 2 consortium projects and the institutes involved are:

  • Risk assessment for manufactured nanoparticles used in consumer products (RAMNUC):
    UK - Imperial College, London; Health Protection Agency, Oxfordshire.
    USA - University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ; Duke University, Durham, NC.
  • Consortium for manufactured nanomaterial bioavailability & environmental exposure (nanoBEE):
    UK - University of Birmingham; Napier University, Edinburgh; Natural History Museum, London.
    USA - Rice University, Houston, TX; Clemson University, SC; University of California, Davis, CA.
  • Transatlantic initiative for nanotechnology and the environment (TINE):
    UK - Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire; Cranfield University, Cranfield, Bedfordshire; Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire; Lancaster University, Lancashire.
    USA - University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY; Duke University, Durham, NC; Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.


External contact

Natural Environment Research Council Press Office

tel: +44 (0)1793 411727 / 411561

Prof Richard Owen, Programme Co-ordinator, European Centre for Environment and Human Health
Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382