Nanotechnology, policy

US environment agency criticised for lack of action on health risks of nanomaterials

14 August 2007

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been accused of acting "too little, too late" in taking action to protect the public and the environment from adverse effects of nanomaterials.

At a public meeting on its proposal for a voluntary Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program, the EPA was urged by US organisation Environmental Defense to act much more aggressively to protect the public and the environment.

"Two years in the making, EPA's tepid proposals have actually set back the clock," testified Dr Richard Denison, Senior Scientist for Environmental Defense. "As a government response to addressing the possible downsides of the nanotechnology revolution, it's simply 'too little, too late.'"

Denison noted that key features of the federal advisory committee's original proposal have been stripped out.

"We supported the original proposal for a voluntary program two years ago because it was one element of a comprehensive plan that also included regulatory steps intended to provide a 'backstop,' and it was to be launched and completed quickly," added Denison. "By contrast, EPA now is calling for an open-ended program with no plan B should its voluntary plan A fall short."

The United Kingdom has operated a similar program for over nine months and has attracted only seven companies to volunteer. The design and timing of the EPA program is likely to yield similarly disappointing participation, resulting in a very selective and skewed picture of the state of nanotechnology.

Environmental Defense instead urged EPA to rapidly develop and implement mandatory reporting rules to level the playing field for the nanotechnology industry and ensure that relevant information is communicated — a step EPA said it had initiated more than two years ago, but for which it has provided no public indication of actual progress.

Environmental Defense also opposed EPA's decision to treat nanoscale materials as if they are no different from their conventional counterparts.

"EPA proposes to effectively ignore the very nano-ness of nanoscale materials," concluded Denison. "This decision is not required by precedent, as EPA claims, and it reflects bad policy that flies in the face of common sense. It removes the only effective means by which any government review of the affected nanoscale materials can be assured prior to commencement of their manufacture."

Environmental Defense's full statement is online at

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