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Katherine Bourzac

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EPA's Voluntary Nanomaterials Program Ineffective

Unsurprisingly, an interim report from the EPA’s voluntary nanomaterials information-gathering program tells us that it hasn’t learned much.

  • January 13, 2009

Last January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program, a voluntary program that gave companies working with nanomaterials the opportunity to offer up information about what nanomaterials they’re developing and any related health and safety data. Not surprisingly, it turns out, few companies responded to this meek request. Though the EPA calls the program a success, an interim report released by the agency on Monday, January 12 (available as a pdf), confirms what we knew a year ago: products containing nanomaterials are making their way to the market without having their potential as environmental and health hazards evaluated.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, most companies’ submissions to the EPA don’t contain health and safety data, and most of the data that has been submitted is not being made public because, companies claim, it is confidential business information. A quick look at the report confirms this. Chemical giant Dow, for example, has submitted information about three materials, none of which are named in the report. Other companies submitting information to the EPA about their nanomaterials include BASF Corporation, Bayer Material Science, DuPont, GE, Unidym, and Nanofilm.

In an analysis of the report on his blog, Environmental Defense Fund senior scientist Richard Denison writes, “Fewer than 10%–123 out of the more than 1,800 unique nanomaterials EPA estimates are already commercially available–were addressed in the basic program submissions.” But as Denison points out, since the program is voluntary, the EPA has no way of determining whether the participating companies submitted information about all the materials they’re working with, or whether the information that they submitted is complete. Indeed, Venn diagrams and pie charts in the report document the agency’s efforts to find out about these nanomaterials by looking in publicly available databases maintained by the Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and Nanowerk.

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