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New Study Assesses Potential of Nanotech in Construction Industry

Construction (Bill Jacobus)The use of new materials based on nanotechnology can spread widely through the construction industry, where they offer significant advantages over traditional materials. But their widespread use in building materials comes with potential environmental and health risks that cannot be ignored. These findings were published in a study appearing this month in the journal ACS Nano.

The paper, by Jaesang Lee and Pedro J. J. Alvarez of Rice University  in Houston, Texas, and Shaily Mahendra of University of California, Los Angeles — and funded by a National Science Foundation grant — analyzed more than 140 scientific publications on the benefits and risks of nano-scale materials. They found manufactured nanomaterials and composites offer extraordinary chemical and physical properties that make them attractive for the construction and related infrastructure industries. These properties make possible innovative applications such as enhanced strength of common building materials like steel and concrete, improved energy efficiency, increased fire-resistance, prevention of bacteria forming on hospital walls, and keeping dirt from sticking to windows.

The authors caution, however, that industry needs to take into account the complete lifecycle of these materials, from manufacture and installation, through demolition and final disposition. The very characteristics that give the materials special qualities can have unintended biological and toxicological effects. The authors encourage the development of guidelines to regulate use and disposal of the materials to minimize any potential adverse impacts.

Photo: Bill Jacobus/Flickr

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