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12/29/2008

When It Comes to Nano, Feds are Passing the Buckyball

According to an article from Scientific American, the National Research Council has weighed in on the regulatory efforts of the federal agencies responsible for monitoring the safety and use of nanoparticles and objects using nanotechnologies.

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For the more than 800 consumer products using nanotechnology, the NRC has said that no federal agency including FDA and EPA “has failed to prove that the diminutive particles are not dangerous.” Of course, this isn’t the same as saying the particles ARE dangerous. But if the standard being used by the government is to prove that nanotechnologies are SAFE, not just that they aren’t harmful. Then no agency has proven that yet.

Moreover, the NRC has said that National Nanotechnology Initiative, the overarching government plan to fund and oversee nanotechnology in the United States, “lacks a coherent plan for ensuring that current and future uses of nanotechnology do not pose a risk to human health or the environment.”

So what does this mean for the average human being? Well, we know that there are exposures to nanoparticles in everyday life–but we simply don’t know what significance that risk has. Without that data, regulation to ensure that those levels aren’t breached or that certain products do not contain to great a level of a certain chemical or compound does not do much good.

So really there are two problems here: lack of research funding for risk assessment and epidemiological data regarding what we know about the nanoparticles already released in the environment and then the regulatory framework to enforce reasonable policies based on that data.

So it’s time for the federal government to start spending the research dollars in the right areas, then pass the regulations necessary, and to stop passing the buckyball.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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