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EPA’s Lousy New Nanotech Program

The EPA is starting to do something about the potential hazards of nanomaterials–but not much.
January 28, 2008

Some of the unusual properties that make nanomaterials attractive might also cause damage to the environment and human health, but not enough research has been done to know if they do. That’s why many experts have been calling for more study of their effects and better regulation of their use. But in spite of rhetoric from government officials, little has been done. So little, in fact, that a toothless program that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today is worth mentioning. The EPA has started a voluntary reporting program with the laudable goal of finding out what manufacturers already know about the properties of the nanomaterials they make. Surely this is a step in the right direction. But it’s happening rather late–years after experts started calling for more attention to nanomaterials. What’s more, something as simple and useful as reporting existing data ought to be mandatory. And ultimately, it should be part of a much larger comprehensive program funding research to learn more about nanomaterials and regulate their use. Even for a voluntary program, it’s not very good, according to Richard Denison, a senior scientist at Environmental Defense. “EPA is simply ‘kicking the can down the road’ by shunning approaches that could have delivered needed information faster, and by opting instead to pursue an open-ended approach with no end in sight,” he said in a press release. “The lack of clear ground rules governing what information volunteers will be called on to provide means that–even after the initial two-year program runs its course–EPA will still likely have only a partial understanding of what nanomaterials are in production and use, and what is known and unknown about their hazards and the nature of exposures to them.”

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