Nanotechnology needs more regulation and funding

By George Reynolds

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nanotechnology, United states environmental protection agency, Epa

Regulations to oversee nanotechnology are needed to protect
human health and the environment, according to a new report.

The report, by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, adds to growing public concern over the potential risks posed by nanotechnology, which could to lead to laws regulating the industry being implemented. Uncertain impacts to health, the environment, and society may arise with the growth of nanotechnology, the report says. "If we want to ensure that the benefits of nanotechnology far exceed any risks, weneed an oversight system that assures safety while providing transparency for both businessesand the public,"​ it stated. Nanotechnology is the manipulation of materials at near atomic scales to create new processes, materials and devices. Food, packaging and a host of other products can benefit from the technology, which can be used to increase shelf life, strengthen products and improve nutritional content. The report claims that nanotechnology could be a catalyst for changes to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), which currently oversees the technology. "The major areas that require strengthening are science, program integration, personnel, international activities, and program evaluation,"​ the report claims. "Inadequate resources, both money and trained people, is a problem for EPA as it is for all federal regulatory agencies."​ J Clarence (Terry) Davies, the report author and former EPA assistant administrator for policy, planning and evaluation, has published a roadmap detailing how a new EPA should handle the challenges of nanotechnology. Davies urged the EPA to launch its proposed voluntary program to collect nanotechnology risk information. A joint scientific research institute should be created by EPA and industry to test nanotechnology effects, with Congress supplying $50m (€37m) a year in funds, the report stated. The report stated that Congress should also establish a temporary committee in each house to consider options for a nanotechnology oversight mechanism and remove the restraints that limit the EPA's ability to require companies to submit information for effective monitoring. Davies said the EPA should set up and lead an interagency regulatory coordinating group for nanotechnology oversight. "With new nanoproducts being commercialized each week, we need a system now for considering whether the products pose a risk,"​ claims the report. Last year sales of nanotechnology-related products reached almost $1bn (€744m), jumping from $150m (€112m) in 2002. Three years ago less than 40 nanopackaging products were on the market, compared to over 400 available at present. Consultant Helmut Kaiser estimates this month that nanotechnology will change 25 per cent of the food packaging market, currently worth $100bn (€74bn). The surge in demand is expected to be driven by new applications for the technology.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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