Moving Toward Federal Regulation of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology will be on the table when the House Science Committee holds a hearing Wednesday, “The Future of Manufacturing: What is the Role of the Federal Government in Supporting Innovation by U.S. Manufacturers?” Among those testifying is Mark Tuominen, Ph.D., director of the National Manufacturing Network.

The multiagency federal National Nanotechnology Initiative last month released its 2011 budget proposal. In his introductory letter, Presidential Science and Technology Advisor John Holdren, wrote, “Nanotechnology R&D constitutes a core building block of innovation that will ultimately accelerate job creation and transform many sectors of our economy through commercialization.” Can regulation be far behind?

Federal oversight of nanotechnology-containing consumer products was a topic of discussion at the March 4 hearing on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s budget before the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

In her prepared statement, Chairman Inez Tenenbaum noted the CPSC’s FY 2011 budget request called for $2 million to support the federal National Nanotechnology Initiative. She said:

In the last few years, there has been increasing public concern about potential health impacts associated with this technology. Although nanomaterials may have the same chemical composition as non-nanomaterials, at the nanonscale they may demonstrate different physical and chemical properties – and behave diferently in the environment and the human body.

The $2 million proposed will alow the Commission to conduct exposure and risk assessments of nanomaterials, allow for database updates to properly flag reports of nanotechnology incidents with consumer products, and conduct consumer outreach efforts such as public meetings. Perhaps even more importantly, it will allow the Commission to take a very proactive approach to this emerging issue, rather than merely reacting to incident reports after they are received.

In her statement, Commissioner Nancy Nord said, “This is an area where I have an especially strong interest and am pleased to see the agency take a strong role as nanomaterials transition from the research laboratory to the consumer market.”

The technology’s move — already well under way — to the marketplace is certainly welcome. One hopes regulators show restraint as they react so as to not endanger this “core building block of innovation.”

Leave a Reply