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A decision-directed approach for prioritizing research into the impact of nanomaterials on the environment and human health

Abstract

The emergence of nanotechnology has coincided with an increased recognition of the need for new approaches to understand and manage the impact of emerging technologies on the environment and human health. Important elements in these new approaches include life-cycle thinking, public participation and adaptive management of the risks associated with emerging technologies and new materials1. However, there is a clear need to develop a framework for linking research on the risks associated with nanotechnology to the decision-making needs of manufacturers, regulators, consumers and other stakeholder groups2,3. Given the very high uncertainties associated with nanomaterials and their impact on the environment and human health, research resources should be directed towards creating the knowledge that is most meaningful to these groups. Here, we present a model (based on multi-criteria decision analysis and a value of information approach) for prioritizing research strategies in a way that is responsive to the recommendations of recent reports on the management of the risk4,5 and impact of nanomaterials on the environment and human health6.

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Figure 1: MCDA/VoI framework for prioritizing research into the impact of nanomaterials on the environment and human health.
Figure 2: Model results showing decision recommendations in the base case and the relative importance of different types of research.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Environmental Quality Research Program of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center. The authors thank E. Ferguson, the manager of this programme. J. Steevens and M. Chappell of the US Army Corps of Engineers are thanked for their editorial comments and suggestions. Permission was granted by the Chief of Engineers to publish this information.

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I.L. developed the overall approach and application framework and guided the preparation of the manuscript. L.J.C. performed background research and developed an initial model. T.P.S. provided contributions on life cycle assessment and decision analysis. J.M.K. guided the VoI analysis. M.E.B. completed the model and performed all calculations. All authors discussed the results and co-wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Igor Linkov.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Linkov, I., Bates, M., Canis, L. et al. A decision-directed approach for prioritizing research into the impact of nanomaterials on the environment and human health. Nature Nanotech 6, 784–787 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2011.163

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