Managing the unknown: addressing the potential health risks of nanomaterials in the built environment

Nanomaterials offer significant potential for high performing new products in the built environment and elsewhere. However, there are uncertainties regarding their potential adverse health effects and the extent to which they are currently used. A desk study and interviews with those working across the construction, demolition and product manufacture sectors (n=59) identified the current state of knowledge regarding nanomaterial use within the built environment. Some nanomaterials are potentially toxic, particularly those based on fibres; others are much less problematic but the evidence base is incomplete. Very little is known regarding the potential for exposure for those working with nano-enabled construction materials. Identifying which construction products contain nanomaterials, and which nanomaterials these might be, is very difficult due to inadequate labelling by product manufacturers. Consequently, those working with nano-enabled products typically have very limited knowledge or awareness of this. Further research is required regarding the toxicology of nanomaterials and the potential for exposure during construction and demolition. Better sharing of the information which is already available is also required through the construction, demolition and manufacture / supply chains. This is likely to be important for other innovative products and processes in construction, not just those which use nanomaterials.