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EPA rolls out nanomaterials safety drive


04 February 2008

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a new voluntary programme to glean more information about nanoscale materials in an effort to manage the risks posed by nanotechnology-enabled products. 

The Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP), announced on January 28, has two parts. Through the 'basic program', manufacturers, importers and users of engineered nanoscale materials have been asked to provide EPA with information about these materials before 28 July 2008 - including their physical and chemical properties, hazards, uses, potential exposures, and associated risk management practices. 

Under the 'in-depth program', participants to develop health and environmental effects data on a smaller set of representative nanoscale materials, and submit their findings to EPA. The agency plans to implement NMSP for two years and then determine next steps, including possible further regulation.

"By performing research on potential adverse affects, EPA is doing what is right for both human and environmental health and technological progress "
- George Gray

Also on 28 January, the EPA together with other federal agencies doled out 21 grants worth over $7 million (3.5 million) to US universities for research examining possible dangers to humans and environmental health posed by manufactured nanomaterials.

'Nanotechnology is an exciting new field with the potential to transform environmental protection. But it is critical to know whether nanomaterials could negatively impact health or the environment,' said George Gray, the assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Research and Development. 'By performing research on potential adverse affects, EPA is doing what is right for both human and environmental health and technological progress.'

Inadequate proposals?

But some nanotechnology safety experts are dissatisfied with the voluntary nature of the NMSP and are calling for reporting to be made mandatory.

'There is good reason to believe that at least some kinds of nanomaterials are a threat to human health or the environment, and at the moment we really don't have any regulatory system for dealing with that,' said Terry Davies, a former senior official at EPA who now serves as an advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. 'There is no incentive right now for anybody to submit information.'

"There is good reason to believe that at least some kinds of nanomaterials are a threat to human health or the environment, and at the moment we really don't have any regulatory system for dealing with that "
- Terry Davies

The NMSP falls under the US Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has also faced criticism because it treats nanoscale materials no differently from other chemicals. Nanomaterials with the same 'molecular identity' as a substance already listed in the TSCA inventory are considered the 'same chemical substance'.

Another criticism has been that TSCA - like REACH, the new EU chemicals regulation - is triggered primarily by volume of production. As a result, nanotechnology-enabled products fall through the regulatory cracks because they are often produced in low volumes.

Meanwhile, EPA says that it is effectively regulating engineered chemical nanoscale materials under the TSCA and has received over 30 new chemical notices for nanoscale materials since 2005.

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Day USA

 

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