Selected category: Nanotechnology

Why is the nanotech industry so intent on keeping EPA from doing its job?

Richard Denison, a Lead Senior Scientist.

Ten years and counting.  That’s how long EPA has been trying to gather the most basic information on nanoscale materials in commerce.  And that’s how long the nanotech industry has been throwing up roadblocks – despite its rhetoric that it supports EPA’s effort, which it sees (in theory) as a means to “favorably and efficiently address unwarranted concerns that have been raised” about the products of nanotechnology.  This “say-one-thing, do-another” approach is both unfortunate and ironic, given that it has stymied getting to a well-informed government oversight system for nanotechnology that the industry should recognize is in its own best interest.

The latest round comes in the wake of EPA’s proposal of a reporting rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that would call on makers and processors of nanoscale materials – those in the size range of 1-100 nanometers (nm) – to provide the agency with information relating to the materials’ manufacture, processing and use, as well as available data relevant to understanding their potential exposures and health or environmental impacts. Here’s EPA’s succinct summary of the rationale for the rule:

Nanoscale materials have special properties related to their small size such as greater strength and lighter weight, however, they may take on different properties than their conventionally-sized counterpart. The proposal is not intended to conclude that nanoscale materials will cause harm to human health or the environment; Rather, EPA would use the information gathered to determine if any further action under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), including additional information collection, is needed.

Despite this modest, common-sense objective, the proposal was met with vociferous opposition from the nanotech industry.   Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, Regulation| Read 2 Responses

A hint of movement in the Super Slo-Mo that is nanoregulation at EPA under TSCA

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Nearly 4 years ago, EPA sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a pair of draft proposed rules that would require reporting of certain information by makers of nanomaterials.  The proposed rules under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) seemed by all measures to have fallen into a black nano-hole. 

But earlier this week, a smidgen of movement was discernible on the EPA regulatory tracker entry for this long-dormant activity.  What appears to have happened is that EPA has withdrawn the original proposed rules and resubmitted one of them to OMB.  Dropped, apparently, is the proposed significant new use rule (SNUR), which would have required companies proposing to commercialize a nanomaterial for a new use to first notify EPA so that it could conduct a safety review.  Retained is the other half of the original pair of proposed rules, an information reporting rule under the authority of section 8(a) of TSCA.  While details are not yet available, that proposal would require companies currently making nanomaterials to report basic information to EPA.  Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy| Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

Regulating nanomaterials to life, not death

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

As we enter a new year and legislative season, we face a changed political climate where the thought of new regulation is anything but de rigueur.  I will argue in this post that a little regulation would have done – and still could do – the world of nanotechnology a world of good.

Come again?

Back when the debate over nanomaterial safety really got started, which I would place ‘round about 2004 (or was that just my first involvement in it?), there seemed to be broad agreement on first-order needs to ensure that nanotechnology would survive and thrive.  The aim was to “get it right the first time,” by identifying and addressing potential risks up front and in the open.  That meant we needed to adequately fund and direct risk research.  We also needed to make sure adequate regulatory authority existed to address potential risks, ideally before they arose.

Most fundamentally, there was virtual consensus on the need for prompt action to ensure regulatory agencies had at hand the basic information they needed to understand the lay of the nano-land:  what nanomaterials are already being produced and are in the pipeline; in what applications and products are they being used; and where along the nanomaterial lifecycle are the most likely points for potential releases and exposures.

With respect to this most fundamental of needs, I’m sorry to say that, in 2011, we are essentially no closer to achieving it than we were in 2004.  Read More »

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Sludging through the nano lifecycle: Caution ahead

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Researchers at Virginia Tech have identified and characterized silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) in the sewage sludge produced by an operating municipal wastewater treatment plant.  The study is notable in several respects:  It is the first time AgNPs have been detected in a field-scale study, one of a real-world operation representative of a real-world exposure scenario to boot.  It shows that silver can exist in wastewater treatment products as nanoparticles.  It indicates such particles may be most likely to partition to sludge under common treatment technologies.  And it suggests that silver may be chemically transformed in the course of wastewater treatment.

The study did not demonstrate that the AgNPs detected in the sludge originated from products containing such nanoparticles, as some news stories have suggested, although the authors indicate such a source "is likely."  But the findings have important implications for nano safety nonetheless.  Read More »

Posted in Nanotechnology| Tagged , , | Read 2 Responses

State-level nano regulation: Yes, indeed, the industry "should have seen it coming" – it caused it!

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

I just read an interesting column by John DiLoreto, CEO of NanoReg, that appears online at Nanotechnology Now.  It's titled "We Should Have Seen It Coming: States Regulating Nanotechnology."  It nicely describes the important role states play in advancing environmental policy and regulation – especially when the feds are asleep at the wheel.  And it also gives a neat rundown of the various state actions aimed at nanomaterials that are underway.

But, search as I might, I couldn't find a single acknowledgment in Mr. DiLoreto's latest column – or in his earlier related column titled "What Drives the Regulation of Nanomaterials?" – of the role the nanotechnology industry itself played in bringing all of this on itself.

That's quite an omission, in my view, given that the industry's actions (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) played a central role in getting us to where we are (or, more accurately, aren't) today on nanotechnology oversight.  That includes driving states to feel they had to step in to fill the federal void.   Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Regulation, States| Tagged , , , , , | Read 2 Responses

Study raises big questions about worker protection in nanotech labs

Cal Baier-AndersonCal Baier-Anderson, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

When it comes to chemical exposures, workers are on the front line.  Workers are usually the most likely to be exposed to harmful levels of chemicals, because they are the ones producing, processing, handling, sampling and measuring, transferring and transporting chemicals in larger and more concentrated quantities.

Throughout history, workers have been the canaries in the coal mines; the first to exhibit the health effects of hazardous chemical exposures, from scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps, to mesothelioma in shipyard and construction workers to liver cancer in vinyl chloride workers.

For these reasons, EDF has argued that workers handling or otherwise likely to be exposed to nanomaterials must be protected from harm (see our earlier posts here, here and here).  Now, a new government study published in the respected journal Environmental Health Perspectives reveals that certain comfortable assumptions about nanomaterial laboratory safety may be downright wrong. Read More »

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