The anticipated benefits of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) should be weighed against their possible negative impacts. Comprehensive environmental assessment (CEA) provides a means of evaluating such trade-offs in a holistic and systematic manner. CEA consists of both a framework for organizing information and a process for using collective judgment to identify and prioritize the issues presented by ENMs. As a meta-assessment approach, CEA is designed to assist both research planners and risk managers by building on various assessment and analytic tools used by risk assessors. Given the immature state of the science for ENMs, CEA is currently being primarily used for prioritizing research directions. Therefore, highlights of case studies of selected ENM applications are presented to illustrate how CEA has been applied thus far to help guide research efforts to support future assessment efforts. In addition, CEA is discussed in relation to topical subjects, such as sustainability, transparency, and stakeholder engagement. Finally, comparisons to other life cycle-based assessment approaches directed at ENMs are noted. WIREs Nanomed Nanobiotechnol 2013, 5:139–149. doi: 10.1002/wnan.1203
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Conflict of interest: The author declares no conflict of interest.
J. M. Davis retired from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.