Environmental Science & Technology
January 18, 2006


Current laws don't give EPA the legal authority to adequately review
and regulate new nanotechnologies.

More aggressive government oversight of nanotechnology (NT) is needed,
J. Clarence (Terry) Davies concludes in Managing the Effects of
Biotechnology [1MB PDF], a 34-page policy analysis from the
independent Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In
this report, Davies (who, in 1970, coauthored the plan that created
the U.S. EPA) provides the data necessary to help readers think about
a course of action for managing NT.

Society has much to gain from the quick advances being made in NT,
writes Davies. Yet the U.S. government isn't putting enough resources
into researching and developing a plan to address its potential risks
[3.3MB PDF]. Although federal laws such as the Toxic Substances and
Control Act (TSCA) and the Clean Air Act provide some basis for
reviewing and regulating nanoscale materials, these laws aren't
adequate to manage NT, Davies argues. TSCA includes several provisions
that make it difficult for EPA to regulate chemicals. It is "premised
on the balancing of risk and benefits," which "invites controversy and
litigation," he explains.

Davies speculates that the lack of federal management could eventually
backfire on NT's development: "The public potentially could be left
unprotected; the government would struggle to apply existing laws to a
technology for which whey were not designed; and industry would be
exposed to the possibility of public backlash, loss of markets, and
potential financial liabilities."

Davies reviews options the government can use to better manage NT now,
such as federal legal authority. Some future steps that he recommends
include building a more coordinated working relationship with other
countries, developing the capability to predict NT's potential risks,
and increasing research on the adverse effects of NT.

A new law that requires manufacturers to provide the government with a
sustainability plan showing that the new product won't present an
unacceptable risk may be required, Davies says. "The political
obstacles to passing new legislation are very large, though not
impossible, and the drawbacks of trying to fit NT under existing law
make the attempt worthwhile," he adds.

Copyright 2006 American Chemical Society