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IRG 3-4: Industry risk perception surveys (U.S. and International)
(Barbara Herr Harthorn, Patricia Holden, Terre Satterfield, Joseph Conti, Cassandra Engeman; former researchers include Lynn Baumgartner, Benjamin Carr, Allison Fish, John Meyerhofer)
This project examines how nanotechnology industries adapt their workplace, environmental health and safety practices for the safe development of nanotechnology. The project began with a 2006 U.S. survey, which was expanded upon in 2009-2010 with an international survey of private nanomaterial companies and included a more in-depth examination of industry views on risk and regulation.
Efficacy of Government Guidance and Voluntary Reporting. Members of this research group conducted the first survey of the nanotechnology industry in 2006. Based on survey responses, researchers argued the need for broader availability of guidance for recommended environmental health and safety (EH&S) practices (Conti et al. 2008). Since its publication, multiple government regulatory agencies have issued guidance documents that are publically available and offer recommendations on how to handle nanomaterials.
Based in part on the 2006 survey and in part on available guidance, an interdisciplinary team of social and environmental science researchers developed a 2009-10 survey of private companies that probed for more detailed information regarding EH&S practices and included an extensive inquiry into company views on risk and regulation. With 78 responses from companies in 14 countries, researchers found that companies were not consistently following recommended practices. Additionally, companies were defining nano-specific health and safety programs based on a narrow set of constitutive EH&S practices. These findings suggest that guidance is not reaching industry. Participants also expressed a concern for nanomaterial risks but expressed a preference for autonomy from regulatory agencies.
The 2009-10 project was funded in part through University of California Center for the Environmental Impacts of Nanotechnologies (UC CEIN) IRG 7 and was conducted as part of a Bren School of Environmental Science and Management Masters Group Project for four Bren School graduate students with Holden serving as Bren School Advisor, Harthorn as the ‘client’ and PI, and sociology doctoral candidate, Engeman, as the Project Coordinator.
This work is currently being submitted for publication and has been presented at several conferences, including the International Sociological Association 2010 World Congress in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Challenges for Risk Management. Survey responses also suggested potential challenges to the development of safe EH&S practices. Researchers and regulators have called for the need for exposure registries, medical surveillance, and epidemiological research. The ability to do this, however, is dependent on identifying the nanomaterial workforce. Potential participants for this study were difficult to identify, with 29 identified companies replying that they do not handle nanomaterials, six of which had “nano” in their company name. Company participants employed close to one million workers worldwide, but only 0.4% of this workforce was reported to actually handle nanomaterials. Additionally, companies reported handling 15 different types of nanomaterials. Broken down by characteristics, such as size, surface area, and agglomeration, companies reported handling a wide variety of nanomaterials, which presents further complications in developing an approach to nanotechnology risk management. This work is in progress and has been presented at the 2011 Fifth International Symposium on Nanotechnology in Boston, MA and the 2011 S.Net conference in Tempe, AZ. It has also received some press attention.
Cross-national and Cross-regional Comparisons. Future research may include an expansion of participants to include more responses from companies based in China. Such research would enable improved cross-national comparisons and would increase statistical power to better understand relationships between EH&S practices, company characteristics, and views on risk and regulation.