187039 Framing Scientific Uncertainty: The Importance of Engaging in Public Dialogue Regarding the Advancement of Nanotechnology

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Catharine Riley, MPH , University of Washington School of Public Health, Seattle, WA
Kristin Beima, BS , School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Dianne Botta, BS , NIEHS Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health - COEC, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Terrance Kavanagh, PhD, DABT , UW Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Jon Sharpe, MEd, MA , University of Washington, NIEHS Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health, University of Washington.edu, Seattle, WA
Kelly Fryer-Edwards, MA, PhD , Medical History and Ethics, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Environmental hazards and health risks associated with nanotechnology and the use of nanomaterials are largely unknown, and applications of nanotechnology are rapidly increasing. New nanomaterials are developed and introduced into the production of mainstream consumer goods under regulations that may not account for the unique properties of nano-sized materials, including the extraordinarily small size of nanostructures and their biological reactivity. Research on modes of exposure to and toxicological characteristics of nanoparticles remain in preliminary phases. Current standard of practice does not necessarily place the burden of proof for safety of nanomaterials on manufacturers. Several case examples from recent history provide cautionary tales on both sides of this issue: either uncritical adoption of technology (i.e. asbestos and DDT) or unmanaged public fears (i.e. GMOs) may have undesirable consequences.

In this presentation, we argue for proceeding critically with nanotechnology research and regulation. Current toxicology studies are directed toward settings in which the greatest risk of exposure is anticipated, for example, occupational exposures that may occur when manufacturing nanomaterials or working with nanomaterials post-production. Other concerns include unknown mode and rate of exposure, and bioaccumulation potential of nanomaterials. While risk assessment of nanomaterials is challenging, an important goal is to ensure safe and effective consumer products. Further, the public must be engaged in dialogue with researchers as we move forward with nanotechnology. Public health can help to pave the way for coherent policy development that will protect workers, the public, and the environment while also enabling promising applications of this emerging technology.

Learning Objectives:
Identify key public health policy issues in moving forward with nanotechnology research and development. Discuss the importance of framing science when dealing with risk assessment, risk perception, and scientific uncertainty. Recognize the need for public engagement in decision-making when approaching issues with scientific uncertainty, such as nanotechnology.

Keywords: New Technology, Decision-Making

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am currently a research assistant with the University of Washington NIEHS Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health - Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues/Community Outreach and Education Workgroup. This is an emerging area of interest and I have written on this topic during my studies (not published).
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.