In the world of science, established standards of testing make replication of research possible, which aids in the advancement of technologies. Testing standards are vital on even the smallest of scales, and Alan Kennedy, a research biologist with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Environmental Laboratory, has helped to achieve such standards for nanomaterials on an international stage.
Kennedy, along with National Institute of Standards and Technology researcher Elijah Petersen and University of Alberta (Canada) researcher Greg Goss, led a team of 23 international researchers over seven years to develop guidance for the testing of nanomaterials. These standards were accepted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in July 2020.
“Before the guidance, there was just a general concern about whether nanomaterials were going to be available to the Soldier,” he said.
Kennedy described how he seized the opportunity when the OECD expressed the need for an acceptable international standard nanomaterial testing framework at an international meeting in Germany in 2013.
“They called specifically for a guidance document,” Kennedy said. “We reached back to the organization and said we would lead it, and we held our first meeting in 2014 in Vienna, Austria.”
The development of acceptable testing standards and information has significant implications for the Army, as a lack of information slows the transition of mission-critical nanotechnologies into Army acquisitions.
“We were very motivated to lead the effort, because we thought back in 2013 that these standards could profoundly impact the Army’s mission ― especially overseas,” Kennedy said.
“Regulators in Europe had put a moratorium on use of certain nanomaterials in products — in part because there was no internationally accepted guidance about how to test these products and get good data,” he said. “This is the method for testing and getting good data, to hopefully reduce such moratoriums based solely on a lack of information, not actual hazard concern, so the Army can use the best materials for its technologies overseas.”
He explained that a small repository of testing protocols for nanomaterials had been developed by the International Organization for Standardization, the American Society for Testing and Materials International and the OECD.
“However, their focus on Army nano-specific products was limited, and we wanted to make sure that the testing guidance would also be applicable to nanomaterials relevant to the Army mission.”
The Toxic Substances and Control Act of 1976, now known as the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, is executed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and classifies nanomaterials as “chemical substances.”
In an effort to assess the risk and impact of nanomaterials on environment, health and safety, the agency is developing a comprehensive regulatory approach under the act with a significant new use notice, to require those who manufacture, import or process new nanoscale materials to submit notice.
Kennedy points out that most of the agency’s research does not encompass military-relevant nanomaterials. “Many of the regulations and testing protocols generated focus on only the nanomaterial itself rather than the product that incorporates the nanomaterial,” he said.
“This does not consider the potential release mechanisms for nanomaterials from the product during use and the overall characteristics of the particles once embedded into a material and, in some cases, this view may affect the transitioning of a nanotechnology based on erroneous interpretations of potential environmental risk,” he continued. “The absence of Army-specific information and guidance can create significant gaps in terms of fielding or testing new technology incorporating nanomaterials.
“The new OECD standards address the challenges raised by manufactured nanomaterials,” he said.
“This is a commendable achievement by Kennedy, and he has made a meaningful impact on the Army both now and for the future,” said ERDC Environmental Laboratory Director Dr. Edmond Russo. “I’m so proud of his commitment to this long-term effort. The use of nanomaterials in military technology is likely to become only more prevalent over time.”
In January 2021, the ERDC research biologist was invited by the OECD to deliver an international seminar on the standards, and he presented the guidance document to and fielded questions from approximately 375 attendees worldwide.
The published OECD guidance document can be found here: http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=env/jm/mono(2020)8&doclanguage=en