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Scientists Try to Find Benefits, Risks of Nanoparticles

 Duluth, Minn. - Nanoparticles, the nearly invisible high-tech building blocks that could open new ways to generate energy, treat disease and clean up pollution, are also under laboratory scrutiny for a different reason - to find out whether they are novel pollutants in their own right.

Scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mid-Continent Ecology Division in Duluth have begun studying seven different nanomaterials, hoping to develop the tools regulators will need to determine how risky they will be in lakes, rivers and groundwater.

Because nanotechnology - the use of very tiny engineered particles to create substances that behave in new ways - is a relatively new field, it lacks the years of environmental study the EPA has done on many common chemicals.

"I would say we're just starting to scratch the surface in understanding how toxic these things have the potential to be," said Steve Diamond, who spent years earlier in his career studying toxic chemicals for the EPA.