Report Provides Roadmap for EPA to Address Nanotechnology

Regulatory oversight of nanotechnology is urgently needed, and EPA should act now, concludes a new study released on May 23.

In "EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century," a former EPA assistant administrator for policy, planning and evaluation, J. Clarence (Terry) Davies, provides a roadmap for a new EPA to better handle the challenges of nanotechnology. New nanomaterials and nanotechnology products are entering the market each week, and an adequate oversight system is necessary to identify and minimize any adverse effects of nano materials and products on health and the environment. Davies' report sets out an agenda for creating an effective oversight system as nanotechnology advances -- the technology that some have hailed as "the next industrial revolution."

"This new report seeks to encourage EPA, Congress and others to create an intelligent oversight approach that empowers EPA and promotes investment and innovation in new nanotechnology products and processes," said David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) at the Wilson Center. "As both the chair and ranking minority member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology stated last year, 'Nanotechnology is an area of research that could add billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, but that won't happen if it is shrouded in uncertainty about its environmental, health and safety consequences.'"

The report provides a thorough analysis of how nanotechnology can serve as a catalyst for change in EPA and existing regulatory frameworks. It identifies major areas that require transformation within the agency -- including science, program integration, personnel, international activities and program evaluation. In addition, Davies' report spells out more than 25 steps that EPA, Congress, the president, the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative and the nanotechnology industry as a whole should take to improve the oversight of nanotechnology. Among the recommendations made are the following:

  • EPA should launch its proposed voluntary program to collect nanotechnology risk information and should begin immediately to revise the Toxic Substances Control Act to better deal with nanotechnology.
  • EPA and industry should create a joint research institute to conduct scientific research on nanotechnology effects.
  • EPA should set up and lead an interagency regulatory coordinating group for nanotechnology oversight.
  • Congress should establish a temporary committee in each house to consider options for a nanotechnology oversight mechanism.
  • Congress should provide an additional $50 million each year for research on the health and environmental effects of nanotechnology products and processes.
  • Congress should remove constraints that limit EPA's ability to require that companies collect and share necessary data and other information the agency needs to oversee nanotechnology.

Davies discusses the importance of public participation and dialogue throughout this process. He also examines the role of state and local governments.

Project for Emerging Nanotechnologies: http://www.nanotechproject.org

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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