Nanotechnology is a fast growing industry producing a wide variety of manufactured nanomaterials (MNMs) and numerous potential applications. Since the publication in 2004 of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering review of the opportunities and uncertainties of nanotechnology there have been numerous reviews published considering the potential risk from exposure to nanoparticles. The reviews have been remarkable consistent and some of their findings can be summarised as follows:
Many nanoparticles and other MNMs are currently only produced on a bench-scale, in small quantities and with relatively few exposed workers. However, other MNMs are mass produced and some industrial sectors make use of nanoparticles in significant quantities, such as in paints and coatings, cosmetics, catalysts and polymer composites. In addition, MNMs will vary widely in their potential to cause health effects in humans following exposure. Total production of MNMs is likely to grow rapidly as is the diversity of MNMs and their applications. Consequently, the potential for exposure to humans and the environment is also likely to increase rapidly.
Human exposure to MNMs and environmental release of these materials can occur during all the life cycle stages of these materials. The main life cycle stages for MNMs are shown in Figure 1 and can be summarised as: i) manufacturing of nanoparticles, ii) formulation of nanomaterials and nanoproducts, iii) industrial use of nanomaterials or products; iv) professional and consumer uses of nanoproducts; v) service life of nanoproducts; and vi) waste life stage nanoproducts.
Figure 1: Simplified overview of life cycle stages of manufactured nanomaterials