Former EPA Leader Offers Nanotechnology Oversight Roadmap

Nanotechnology will significantly change virtually every facet of the American lifestyle. The next president has the opportunity to shape these changes and to ensure that nanotechnology's benefits will be maximized and its risks identified and controlled.

A new report by former EPA official J. Clarence (Terry) Davies lays out a clear roadmap for the next presidential administration and describes the immediate and longer term steps necessary to deal with the current shortcomings of nanotechnology oversight.

"The future of the technology is in the hands of the incoming administration. The shape of the future will depend significantly on what the new government does," says Davies, whose report, Nanotechnology Oversight: An Agenda for the New Administration, was released July 23.

In the report, Davies calls for the White House and federal agency policymakers to maximize the use of existing laws to improve nanotechnology oversight. Such measures include defining nanomaterials as "new" substances under federal toxics and food laws, thereby enabling the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to consider the novel qualities and effects of nanomaterials. Davies also calls for federal pesticide and workplace safety laws to be used to protect against potential adverse impacts of nanomaterials.

Immediate policy changes, however, need to be followed by longer-term changes to existing oversight laws. For example, two major high-exposure applications of nanotechnology -- cosmetics and dietary supplements -- are essentially unregulated. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act needs to be amended to deal with these applications. Other laws important to nanotechnology, such as the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Consumer Product Safety Act, also need radical revision, Davies says.

Without increased funding and staffing for relevant agencies many of the actions called for in the report will not be possible.

"In order to ensure the safe development of this rapidly advancing technology, there needs to be an increase in nanotechnology risk research monies in the fiscal year 2009 budget to $100 million and in FY 2010 to $150 million," says David Rejeski, the director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

The report is available at: http://www.nanotechproject.org/n/oversight/

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