Environ Health. 2016 Jan 19;15:7. doi: 10.1186/s12940-016-0089-0.
Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale manipulation of environmental processes that affects the Earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of climate change. Injecting sulfate aerosol precursors and designed nanoparticles into the stratosphere to (i.e., solar radiation management [SRM]), has been suggested as one approach to geoengineering. Although much is being done to unravel the scientific and technical challenges around geoengineering, there have been few efforts to characterize the potential human health impacts of geoengineering, particularly with regards to SRM approaches involving stratospheric aerosols. This paper explores this information gap. Using available evidence, we describe the potential direct occupational and public health impacts of exposures to aerosols likely to be used for SRM, including environmental sulfates, black carbon, metallic aluminum, and aluminum oxide aerosols. We speculate on possible health impacts of exposure to one promising SRM material, barium titanate, using knowledge of similar nanomaterials. We also explore current regulatory efforts to minimize exposure to these toxicants. Our analysis suggests that adverse public health impacts may reasonably be expected from SRM via deployment of stratospheric aerosols. Little is known about the toxicity of some likely candidate aerosols, and there is no consensus regarding acceptable levels for public exposure to these materials. There is also little infrastructure in place to evaluate potential public health impacts in the event that stratospheric aerosols are deployed for solar radiation management. We offer several recommendations intended to help characterize the potential occupation and public health impacts of SRM, and suggest that a comprehensive risk assessment effort is needed before this approach to geoengineering receives further consideration.