Nanotech Stewardship | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: January 28, 2008

Nanotech Stewardship

Voluntary EPA program criticized for not giving agency the data it needs to regulate nanoscale materials
Department: Government & Policy
News Channels: Nano SCENE
Gulliford
Credit: EPA
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Gulliford
Credit: EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency has launched its Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program for collecting data on engineered nanomaterials from manufacturers. The voluntary data submission program is supposed to help the agency identify what nanomaterials are being produced and to characterize any health and safety issues.

The program has two parts. The first part asks manufactures to submit to EPA in the next six months any data they already have on production and safety of nanomaterials. The second part is a two-year, in-depth program in which companies will work with EPA to develop new health and environmental data on those products. EPA says it will publish an interim report on the program in about a year.

"The program will help strengthen the scientific understanding of nanoscale materials and allow EPA to more quickly assemble the information needed to ensure appropriate oversight of the products of this promising technology," said James B. Gulliford, EPA's assistant administrator for prevention, pesticides, and toxic substances in a statement.

But the voluntary nature of the program and the fact that EPA apparently is not willing to handle nanomaterials differently from other chemicals has observers worried.

"The agency's current oversight approach is inadequate to deal with nanotechnology," says J. Clarence (Terry) Davies, a former EPA official who is now senior adviser to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "It is essential that EPA move quickly to recognize the novel biological and ecological characteristics of nanoscale materials. With the approach outlined by EPA and because of the weakness in the law, the agency is not even able to identify which substances are nanomaterials, much less determine whether they pose a hazard."

Richard A. Denison, senior scientist with the activist group Environmental Defense, says EPA's action is too little, too late. "Even after the two-year program runs its course, EPA will still have only a partial understanding of what nanomaterials are in production and use and what is known about their hazards and the nature of exposures to them," he says.

 
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