Study Urges Nano Oversight

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Although the general public continues to know little to nothing about nanotechnology -- the manipulation of matter on an atomic scale -- the number of consumer products containing some aspect of it has now surpassed 450 and is increasingly rapidly, making regulatory oversight of the industry an urgent need, a study released today said.

(See also: Nanotech Benefits Outweigh Risks for Consumers; It's the Little Things That Matter; Nanotech Workplace Safety Information Found Lacking)

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation and control of materials on the scale of atoms and molecules. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, and nanotechnology typically deals with particles and structures between 1 and 100 nanometers (the width of a human hair is approximately 80,000 nanometers). A nanometer-size particle is a tiny fraction of the size of a living cell and can be seen only with the most powerful microscopes.

Nanotechnology has been called "the next industrial revolution" and can now be found in everything from bed linens and clothing to sporting goods, food storage containers and furniture upholstery, according to a list on the Web site of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), a partnership between the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable Trusts, which commissioned the new report.

According to Lux Research, nanotechnology was incorporated in $30 billion of manufactured goods worldwide in 2005, more than double the amount in 2004. It estimates that by 2014 that number will increase more than 85 percent, to $2.6 trillion.

Of the 475 products containing nanotechnology on the PEN Web site, 78 are cosmetics and 58 are "personal care" products such as toothpaste, toothbrushes and shampoos.

According to J. Clarence Davies, author of the report, "EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century," therein lies one of the major problems with oversight: While the EPA is charged with regulating the industry, many of the products containing nanotechnology are governed by other agencies. For example, food additives and packaging, drugs and medical devices, and cosmetics are all regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The EPA is charged with regulating chemicals, pesticides and automobile fuel additives and has primary placed nanotechnology under TSCA, or the Toxic Substances Control Act, which oversees chemicals and is inadequate to deal with the issues raised by nanotch, Davies said.

Some of the "red flags" about nanotech he cites in the report include: Respiratory problems in lab animals exposed to nanotubes, inhaled nanoparticles can be absorbed into the blood stream and affect the central nervous system, and mice that ingested nanoscale copper particles suffered significant injuries to the kidney, liver, and spleen.

Also, Davies said, very few studies have looked at potential environmental damage from nanomaterials.

The EPA should immediately revise the TSCA to better deal with nanotechnology, and the agency should launch its proposed voluntary program to collect nanotech risk information, Davies recommends as part of 25 suggested actions. He also recommends that the EPA and industry jointly conduct research into nanotech effects and that the EPA create an interagency regulatory group for nanotech oversight.

Davies also recommends that Congress provide an additional $50 million each year for research on the health and environmental effects of nanotechnology products and processes. Congress should also "remove constraints that limit EPA's ability to require that companies collect and share necessary data and other information the agency needs to oversee nanotechnology," Davies said.

"For over 30 years, the EPA has dealt with the impacts of the last industrial revolution," said William D. Ruckelshaus, the EPA's first administrator, in a statement about the new report. "Today, another industrial revolution is occurring. Nanotechnology holds tremendous potential -- for breakthroughs in medicine, in the production of clean water and energy, and in computers and electronics. It may be the single most important advance of this new century. But with its ability to fundamentally change the properties of matter, nanotechnology also may pose both the greatest challenge and biggest opportunity for EPA in its history."

The full report is available online at:

A list of consumer products containing nanotechnology are be found at:

Published: May 2007
An SI prefix meaning one billionth (10-9). Nano can also be used to indicate the study of atoms, molecules and other structures and particles on the nanometer scale. Nano-optics (also referred to as nanophotonics), for example, is the study of how light and light-matter interactions behave on the nanometer scale. See nanophotonics.
A unit of length in the metric system equal to 10-9 meters. It formerly was called a millimicron.
The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
atomsBasic ScienceBiophotonicschemicalscosmeticsEPAFDAindustrialJ. Clarence DaviesMicroscopymoleculesnanonanometernanotechnologyNews & Featuresoversightpersonal carePew Charitable TrustsphotonicsregulateregulatoryTSCAWoodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

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