Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Nano in the workplace

Yesterday, I heard a presentation by the authors of a recent report on environmental health and safety practices in the nanotechnology workplace. The study was conducted by several University of California Santa Barbara Bren School students with mentoring from UCSB Center for Nanotechnology in Society faculty. Several of the advisors on the project are contributors to this blog, and they undoubtedly can do the report better justice. Hopefully, they'll post their perspectives soon. Until then, here are a few of my notes from the presentation:

337 organizations worldwide were contacted, 64 responded.
Telephone interviews, written and web-based surveys. Responses were self-reported and not independently verified.

Respondents believe that there are special risks related to nanomaterials. However, their actual environmental health and safety practices did not significantly depart from standard hazardous material handling.

Few monitored the workplace for airborne nanoparticles or provided guidance to consumers regarding disposal.

Nearly half of organizations implementing nano-specific environmental health and safety programs described the practices as a precaution against unknown hazards.

The entire report text is available online, as well as a two page executive summary (link).

Scanning electron micrograph of a prototype 'nanoknife' shows a single carbon nanotube stretched between two tungsten needles. Triangular probe is the tip of an atomic force cantilever used to determine the breaking point of the knife. (Color added for clarity) Image: Courtesy NIST/CU

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