Over the past decade, the science of nanotechnology[1] has grown into a thriving global business with seemingly endless opportunities. In 2001, the National Science Foundation estimated worldwide revenues from nanotechnology could exceed $1 trillion by the year 2015.[2] As the industry expands, so must the ability to assess and insure the risks associated with nanotechnology.  

In the June 2009 issue of its Industry Insight magazine, Zurich North America announced the launch of its Zurich Nanotechnology Exposure Protocol, or ZNEP™, which was developed in conjunction with Intertox, a Seattle based consulting firm specializing in human health and environmental issues.[3] Zurich has been following nanotechnology as a potential source of risk since 2003, and ZNEP™ is an attempt to meaningfully capture and quantify the real world risk associated with nanotechnology.  

The Zurich article does not give an in-depth view of ZNEP™, but it appears that ZNEP™ involves direct contact with industry to collect information on specific nanoparticles and specific exposure pathways. That information will be used by Zurich to categorize potential risk on what appears to be a per- nanoparticle basis for a given exposure pathway. Although not specifically mentioned in the article, it is likely that ZNEP™ is an iterative process, and will involve continuous contact between Zurich and its industry clientele to constantly update information and re-evaluate risk over time.  

The remainder of the Industry Insight article is an excellent overview of nanotechnology and includes information about past, present and future uses, as well as the potential economic impact of this enabling technology. It is recommended reading for any stakeholder interested in an insurance industry perspective on nanotechnology, and is a great resource for anyone wanting to obtain a thorough overview of this novel field.  

The issue of nanotechnological risk in an insurance context is extremely timely, and it is highly likely that the insurance industry will be one of the primary drivers behind further research in the toxicological effects of nanoparticles on human health and the environment. The development of ZNEP™ is likely to mark the beginning of greater involvement by insurance companies in understanding the risks presented by nanotechnology.