A U.S. scientific panel is calling for a systematic study of the growing use of nanomaterials in industry, saying little is known about the risk of the microscopic particles increasingly being used in everything from cosmetics to clothing and paint. The National Research Council (NRC), part of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, noted that the use of nanomaterials — measured on the scale of billionths of a meter — is growing rapidly, rising from $225 billion in nanotechnology-based products in 2009 to an estimated $3 trillion by 2015. But the NRC said that little is known about the potential risks posed by nanomaterials, the pathways and plausibility of exposure, and the severity of such exposure. The NRC called for a systematic research effort that would identify sources of nanomaterials releases, the different industrial processes that affect exposure and hazards, and nanomaterial interactions from a sub-cellular to an ecosystem level. Nanomaterials — often made from minerals such as gold, silver, carbon, zinc, and aluminum — have unique electrical, chemical, and optical properties. “The number and variety of nanomaterials is just mind-boggling,” said Mark R. Wiesner, an engineering professor at Duke University and a member of the panel.
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