Nanotechnology Policy and Environmental Regulatory Issues

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Tony Rook
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Nanotechnology Policy and Environmental Regulatory Issues

Here is a link to Nastassja Lewinski's report Nanotechnology Policy and Environmental Regulatory Issues from the Washington Internships for Students of Engineering.

Abstract:

To date, the United States government has increasingly funded the development of nanotechnology applications. As a result, the growth of the field is outpacing the research on related environmental health and safety (EHS) issues. Depending on whether or not nanomaterials are harmful, exposure to nanomaterials could trigger negative health effects.

Currently, there is no regulation controlling the release of nanomaterials manufactured in the U.S. into the environment. Therefore, the EPA is currently considering how to apply current
environmental regulatory laws, in particular the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), to nanotechnology. The main issue concerning TSCA is the interpretation of a new chemical. Since many nanomaterials are chemicals already on the TSCA Inventory, they can be considered existing chemicals and enter commerce bypassing EPA review. However, because the unique properties of nanoparticles are a result of their size, considering nanoparticles comparable to their bulk counterparts may be inappropriate. To address this issue, the EPA plans to launch a voluntary program towards the end of 2005 to collect information that will help determine how nanomaterials should be regulated under TSCA.

Five years after the onset of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, environmental issues have finally rose to a major research priority. Government support of environmental implications research should have begun at the same time applications research and development funding started.
Therefore, I conclude the government should adopt a horizontal funding or priority approach to future national science and technology research initiatives. This would facilitate all aspects of development since questions concerning applications, safety, utility and commercial viability would be addressed simultaneously instead of one by one.

To address the current concerns with nanotechnology safety, I suggest the EPA (1) make nanotechnology a top research priority, (2) collect exposure, transport, toxicology, and ecological fate information through its voluntary program, (3) become involved in standards development through ANSI and ASTM, (4) consider nanomaterials as new or significant new uses of chemicals for TSCA and amend the release thresholds.

Chemical engineers should also become more involved with nanotechnology implications research. AIChE should (1) actively participate in the regulatory effort through its Government
Relations Committee and (2) bring EHS effects to the attention of the Research and New Technology Committee and the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum.

Reference:

Lewinski, Nastassja. Nanotechnology Policy and Environmental Regulatory Issues. Journal of Engineering and Public Policy. Aug. 2005. vol. 9