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Regulating Nanotech

November 10, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 45

“Get Ready for Nanotech Food” sheds light on the implementation of nanotechnology in food products and the complexities of the oversight process (C&EN, Oct. 6, page 38). Sandra Steingraber, an internationally recognized expert on environmental links to cancer and reproductive health, recently spoke at Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pa. When asked about regulating nanotechnology, Steingraber’s response was, “We have the chance to get it right.”

Given that we are already being exposed to nanotechnology in our foods and that the Food & Drug Administration is approaching regulations on a “case-by-case basis,” I’m afraid that we’ve already missed the opportunity to get it right.

As a Ph.D. chemist who has a reasonable understanding of nanotechnology, I don’t want to be unknowingly exposed to nanoscale materials, nor do I want my children or their children to suffer from unintended consequences of wide-scale distribution of substances for which we don’t have a clear toxicological and ecotoxicological understanding. Hasn’t the chemical community already learned the lessons of unintended consequences from past experience with CFCs, DDT, and many others?

It is time for new chemical technology to be introduced only after its safety has been established and only when there is good reason for the technology (not just corporate greed). If the U.S. government is not going to provide a mechanism for such regulations, the responsibility must fall to the chemical community. Scientists must embrace a responsible and pragmatic approach that protects the “human element” when introducing new technology.

Helen M. BoylanNew
Wilmington, Pa.


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