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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made a $5 million research grant to Arizona State University to better understand the impacts of nanomaterials throughout their life cycle – from design, manufacture, use and disposal.

According to Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, while nanomaterials have shown great potential in electronics, medicine and other fields, relatively little is known about their effects on human health and the environment.

Arizona State University will use the grant to evaluate the trade-offs between using nanomaterials to improve the functionality of consumer products and the potential risks to humans and the environment when the products reach end-of-life.

The research proposed will address the knowledge gaps that prevent the safe development of nano-enabled products, and has the potential to improve design and processes of products with nanomaterials.

Nanomaterials by definition are less than approximately 100 nanometers, too small to be seen with the naked eye or even with conventional lab microscopes.

The EPA explained that materials engineered to such a small scale are often referred to as engineered nanomaterials (ENMs), which can take on unique optical, magnetic, electrical, and other properties.

“Nanomaterials provide clear benefits for many products, but there remains a big knowledge gap about how, or if, nanomaterials are released from consumer products into the environment as they move through their life cycles,” explained Paul Westerhoff, associate dean of research for ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

“We hope to help industry make sure that the kinds of products that engineered nanomaterials enable them to create are safe for the environment,” he added.

The University of California, Santa Barbara also received $4.9 million to develop an online tool to evaluate life cycle impacts of chemicals which industry, academia and other decision makers can use to make more informed decisions about chemical and product design.

For more information on the chemical life cycle grants issued by EPA visit: http://epa.gov/ncer/ncclcs

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