Controversy over proposed U.S. nanotech regulatory legislation

A prominent new report on nanoparticle safety issues from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is generating a bit of controversy. Author J. Clarence Davies, a former EPA Administrator, advocates new federal legislation, while others see the situation differently. From a Chicago Tribune article:

“Davies said that because nanoparticles behave differently than traditional materials, they pose a regulatory dilemma that would best be solved through new federal legislation. While enacting a nanotech regulation act would be difficult, Davies said it should be attempted.

” ‘The political obstacles to passing new legislation are very large,’ Davies said in his report, ‘though not impossible, and the drawbacks of trying to fit [nanotech] under existing laws make the attempt worthwhile.’

“That conclusion is ‘reactionary’ and a ‘gross simplification,’ said Alan J. Gotcher, chief executive of Altair Nanotechnologies, a Reno-based firm that makes nanoproducts to improve furnace air filters and extend the life of lithium-ion batteries.

” ‘The Davies report treats all nanomaterials as if they were the same, and they’re not,’ said Gotcher, who said his company works with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to assure its employees have a safe work environment. The firm has also contracted with the University of California at Santa Barbara to test for environmental effects from its products.

” ‘Given what we know at present, there’s not a lot of data that says these things are terrible,’ said Gotcher.

“Agencies entrusted with protecting the public are well aware of nanotechnology and have initiated numerous studies to assess potential risks, said Northwestern’s Mirkin.

” ‘I believe the regulatory machine for dealing with these advances already exists,’ he said.

Summary: Expect this issue to heat up and keep being hot for decades to come, as nanotech progresses from materials to devices to systems. In the near-term, existing regulatory agencies need additional funding to fulfill their nanotech-related responsibilities. —Christine

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