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Nanotechnology needs government oversight, says report

Posted: 28 May 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:nanotechnology research? government oversight? EPA report?

Nanotechnology requires government regulation, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official concludes in a new report.

"Nanotechnology is full of opportunities, but it would be extraordinary and unprecedented if a technology as powerful and as broad as nanotechnology did not have some potential adverse effects," said J. Clarence Davies, former EPA assistant administrator for policy, planning and evaluation and author of the report, "EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century."

"To protect the American public, we need an adequate oversight system now, and we don't have one yet," Davies added.

The report was released May 23 by the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The report recommends that Congress add an additional $50 million annually to EPA's budget for research on the health and environmental impact of specific nanotechnology products. EPA regulates some nanotechnologies, but Davies claimed an alleged "status-quo bias" against regulating nanotechnology at the agency.

"Oversight mechanisms that the EPA currently has in place are not well geared to nanotechnology since current statutes are based on mass and weight as being the trigger for regulation," said Davies. "This approach does not make a lot of sense when it comes to nanomaterials."

Instead, according to Davies, a new testing regime is needed to measure specific toxic effects of nanoparticles. Test should be based on chemical composition, shapes and human exposure levels, he said.

The report acknowledges that nanotechnology could add billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. But without adequate EPA oversight, those benefits could be overshadowed by environmental, health and safety consequences.

The report lists 25 recommendations aimed at EPA, Congress, the National Nanotechnology Initiative and industry for regulating nanotechnology. For instance, the Toxic Substances Control Act should be revised to address the tiny amounts of nanomaterials that could be toxic to humans.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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