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A relative ranking approach for nano-enabled applications to improve risk-based decision making: a case study of Army materiel


Assessing the health and environmental risks of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) continues to be a challenging endeavor. Due to extensive challenges related to applying traditional risk assessment frameworks to ENMs, decision making regarding the use of ENMs in products and applications may need to rely on structured decision support tools such as risk ranking approaches. This study examines the use of one risk ranking tool that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative information regarding the potential human health risks of ENMs, focused primarily on worker and soldier health. Using a case study involving Army materiel (i.e., equipment), a relative risk ranking algorithm is proposed that accounts for not only the physicochemical characteristics of the ENMs, but also the characteristics of the Army materiel. In this way, the resulting risk potential for soldiers and workers is not solely based on the inherent characteristics of the ENMs but is also influenced within the context of the technology being developed. Among other important findings, the results from applying this risk ranking algorithm in this case study suggest that inhalation from accidental exposures to carbon nanotubes and copper flakes incorporated into energy and obscurant materiel by Army workers rank highest relative to the other items evaluated in this baseline assessment. As the presence of data gaps was one of the greatest challenges to applying this risk ranking algorithm, future applications may benefit from reliance on a continually revised database that may be updated in real time and possibly synced with publically available databases in order to use the most current and comprehensive set(s) of data available.

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The authors wish to acknowledge the expertise provided by Dr. Christie Sayes of RTI International and Dr. Martin Philbert at the University of Michigan, as well as the invaluable input of Dr. Christine Hendren of Duke University; Megan Tulloch of RTI International for her contributions to the development of the ACCESS database and user interface; Chris Carroll at the US Army Public Health Command for his meticulous review and input throughout the project; and the numerous other U.S. Army subject matter experts that served as points-of-contact and provided the case study with invaluable data. This project was supported by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, contract # W81XWH-12-P-0093.

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Correspondence to Khara D. Grieger.

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Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this report are those of the authors and should not be construed as official Department of the Army position, policy, or decision, unless so designated by other official documentation. Citations of commercial organizations or trade names in this report do not constitute an official Department of the Army endorsement or approval of the products or services of these organizations.

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Grieger, K.D., Redmon, J.H., Money, E.S. et al. A relative ranking approach for nano-enabled applications to improve risk-based decision making: a case study of Army materiel. Environ Syst Decis 35, 42–53 (2015).

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  • Army materiel
  • Engineered nanomaterials
  • Nanotechnology
  • Relative risk ranking
  • Risk assessment