Monday, 6 August 2012

How safe are nanoparticles? The NanoFATE project is finding out…

The NanoFATE project is the subject of a major feature in the latest issue of International Innovation magazine, published today (6 August 2012).

Nanotechnology is employed in a diverse range of industries and sectors to create or enhance materials and products at the fantastically small nano level (one-billionth of a metre). Nanoparticles have been used in familiar consumer products like suntan lotions, eyeglasses and food packaging as well as in sectors such as computer technology, biology and medicine. But alongside the rapid advances in such technology is the need to reassess the environmental risk assessments that help ensure nanotechnology is managed and implemented safely.

NanoFATE is a major EU-funded collaborative project that investigates the fate and effects of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in the environment, from their initial entry into the environment (for example, whether through vehicle exhaust fumes into the air, or suntan lotion or anti microbial additives washed down the plughole), through to their different forms and effects, to whether there is a potentially toxic impact on water, soil etc.

NanoFATE involves advanced imaging. Here the spatial distribution of metals in organs of a woodlouse
exposed to silver ENPs is captured at the Diamond Light Source (UK) Synchotron by NanoFATE's
Cardiff, Aveiro, Oxford and NERC teams.

Now halfway through its four-year programme, the project is the subject of a major feature in the latest issue of International Innovation magazine, which is published today.

The NanoFATE project coordinator is Dr Claus Svendsen, an ecotoxicologist with the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), who talks to the magazine about the potential environmental issues presented by engineered nanoparticles, some of the practicalities involved with such a collaboration (NanoFATE is a multidisciplinary project involving 12 partner organisations from 9 European countries), applications resulting so far from the project and its scientific highlights.

Claus and other project leaders from the University of Oxford and Vrije University, Amsterdam, also talk about NanoFATE's major components, as well as its aims of providing tools and knowledge that can be applied in practice.

Claus tells the magazine, "We constantly improve assessment realism as we build better understanding of ENPs' environmental behaviour, organisms' uptake and resulting toxicity. The final aim is to make dynamic risk maps for Europe by meshing our developing knowledge on ENP safety with accurate exposure prediction models."

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