Are Nano EHS Budgets Too Small?

by Kas

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) coordinates Federal R&D activities related to nanotechnology.  Currently, the NNI involves the activities of 25 Federal agencies, 13 of which have budgets planned for 2010.  Four of these agencies have specific responsibilities to address environmental, health, and safety (EHS) nanotechnology research needs as outlined by the 2008 NNI publication Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Needs for Engineered Nanoscale Materials.  The four agencies are: USEPA, NIOSH, NIST, and NIH (thatâs the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Institute of Health).  Four other Federal agencies have EHS budgets, but are not appointed with specific EHS nanotechnology research priorities by NNI.  These agencies are: NSF, DoD, DOE, and USDA (National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and United States Department of Agriculture). 

Using publicly available NNI budget data, we evaluated the planned investments for nanotechnology EHS research in 2010.  The data for the USEPA, NIOSH, NIST, and NIH were assessed to determine the percent of the Agency's budget dedicated to nanotechnology EHS research and the status of the budgets as compared with 2009 data.  Finally, the total NNI EHS budget was examined to help to provide a sense of perspective.



Federal Agency with

EHS Responsibilities

Agency's Planned 2010 EHS Budget

(dollars in millions)

Percent of Agency's Total Nano Research Budget

Change in EHS budget from 2009




70% increase



68% increase



94% increase



1% increase

The budgets for the USEPA, NIOSH, NIST, and NIH have increased from 2009 to 2010.  The USEPA investments (97%) and NIOSH investments (100%) in EHS research reflect the missions of these agencies.  The NIH and NIST investments make up a small percentage of their overall nanotechnology research budgets, but the NIH budget is more than the USEPA's and the NIST budget is comparable to NIOSH's 2009 budget of $7.4 million. 

The total NNI EHS budget planned for 2010 is $87.7 million or 5% of the total NNI budget of $1.6 billion.  This is an increase of approximately 23% from 2009 and more than double the $35 million dedicated to EHS research in 2005. 

Agency-specific and total NNI EHS budgets have increased in recent years.  Yet, the question remains whether the increases satisfy the need for an effective EHS research agenda.  If 5% of the total NNI budget is dedicated to EHS, then 95% of the budget is dedicated to non-EHS research.  This imbalance translates to actual research, development, testing, and evaluation imbalances, i.e., there are far more research publications and grants concerning fundamental nanotechnology R&D than there are concerning toxicology, exposure assessment, morbidity, and mortality. 

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) suggested an increase in 2010 EHS funding to $150 million and, in a February 2009 article published in Environmental Science & Technology, estimates for nanomaterial toxicity testing ranged from $249 million to $1.18 billion (depending on assumptions made about EHS hazards).  These publications send the message to nanotechnology stakeholders that the EHS budget trend lines need a serious boost.

Kas is an industrial hygienist studying public health in the DC metro area.

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