PEN: Europe Nearly Doubling U.S. Spending on Nano Risk Research

A new analysis by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) indicates that European nations are investing nearly twice as much as America in research primarily aimed at addressing the potential risks of nanotechnology. The analysis, announced April 19, also highlights a substantial over-inflation of the federal government's nanotechnology risk-research investment figures for the United States. For fiscal year 2006, the assessment found that while the U.S. investment in highly risk-relevant projects totaled $13 million, European countries invested nearly $24 million.

PEN evaluated research projects listed in the U.S. government's National Nanotechnology Initiative research strategy--released in February 2008 but without specifics regarding the annual project budget or the applicability of each project to assessing potential hazards--by their relevance to addressing current and future nanotechnology risks. Research was classified according to whether it was highly relevant to addressing potential EH&S hazards, substantially relevant, having some relevance, or was only marginally relevant.

By collecting individual project budget data from publicly available sources, PEN estimated funding levels for 2006 and found 62 federally-funded projects that were highly relevant to understanding nanotechnology risk, with an estimated annual budget of $13 million. This sum is markedly different from the U.S. government's own assessment of its spending, which it estimates at $37.7 million for "highly relevant research" in fiscal year 2006.

"It appears the U.S. is guilty of wishful thinking in its assessment of research that will lead to the development of safe nanotechnologies," says PEN Chief Science Advisor Andrew Maynard. "It is trying to substitute research that might inform science's general understanding of possible nanotechnology risks for research that is focused on getting answers to direct questions being asked today--what makes a nanomaterial potentially harmful, how can it be used safely, and what happens when it is eventually disposed? Both the U.S. government figure and the results of the PEN assessment show that less than 3 percent of the $1.4 billion federal nanotechnology research budget was spent on environment, health and safety research."

Washington, D.C.-based PEN was established in April 2005 as a partnership between the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The project is dedicated to helping ensure that as nanotechnologies advance, possible risks are minimized, public and consumer engagement remains strong, and the potential benefits of these new technologies are realized. According to PEN, draft legislation proposed by U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) would amend the NNI act to include a minimum 10 percent mandate for the nanotechnology federal research and development budget devoted to EHS research in the future, amounting to approximately $150 million annually. The PEN assessment and data is available at www.nanotechproject.org/inventories/ehs.

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