The government needs a more comprehensive plan for studying the risks of nanotechnology, the National Research Council said Wednesday.
While the committee that prepared the report did not evaluate the safety of nanomaterials, it was critical of current research efforts into the health and environmental safety of the technology.
Nanomaterials are made of extremely tiny particles — some thousands of times finer than a human hair — which have come increasingly into use in recent years, often in products such as skin care and cosmetics.
Consumer advocates and others have raised questions about potential risks from these materials and the National Nanotechnology Initiative was set up to coordinate safety research.
But the research council report said the NNI plan fails to provide a clear picture of the current understanding of these risks or where it should be in 10 years.
In addition, the NNI plan does not include research goals to help ensure that nanotechnologies are developed and used as safely as possible. And though the research needs listed in the plan are valuable, they are incomplete, the report said.
It called for a new plan going beyond federal research to include research from universities, industry, consumer and environmental groups and others.
"The current plan catalogs nano-risk research across several federal agencies, but it does not present an overarching research strategy needed to gain public acceptance and realize the promise of nanotechnology," David Eaton, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington and chairman of the committee that prepared the report, said in a statement.
David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, welcomed the report.
"It is disappointing that the Bush administration did not listen to PEN experts" and others calling for an improved research plan, he said. "But I am encouraged that the NRC assessment will provide a roadmap for the next administration to make up for this lost time. It's time to get the job done and to get it done right," Rejeski said in a statement.
The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies is an initiative of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The National Research Council is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent agency chartered by Congress to advise the government on science and technology.