Identification of Risks in the Life Cycle of Nanotechnology-Based Products


Address correspondence to:
Dr. Nathan Swami
Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering
University of Virginia, PO Box 400743
Thornton Hall C218
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4743


In order to realize the projected market potential of nanotechnology, the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) uncertainties posed by a nano-product (i.e., a nanotechnology-enabled product) need to be characterized through the identification of risks and opportunities in early stages of product development. We present a methodology to identify risks from nano-products using a scenario analysis approach that allows for expert elicitation on a set of preidentified use and disposal scenarios and what we have labeled “risk triggers” to obtain scores on their likelihood of occurrence and severity. Use and disposal scenarios describe product life-cycle stages that could result in risk attributed to the nano-product, whereas risk triggers are particular to nanoparticle properties. These are potential risks, as the risk assessment community is currently debating the specific risks attributed to nanotechnology. Through such a framework, our goal is to identify which products pose greater risks, where these risks occur in the product life cycle, and the impacts of these environmental risks on society. The comparison of risk triggers across nano-products allows relative risk ranking on axes of exposure- and hazard-related risk triggers. For the specific case of air fresheners, areas of acute risks resulted from bioavailability of nanoparticles in air release and water entrainment exposure scenarios; catalytic activity of nanoparticles in inhalation and air release exposure scenarios; the harmful effects due to the antibacterial property on useful bacteria particularly in susceptible populations; and, finally, risks from the lack of nanoparticle coating stability in air release scenarios.