EPA on nanotechnology research and regulation

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Policy Council recently published a white paper on nanotechnology, the purpose of which is to inform EPA management of relevant science issues and needs, and communicate the issues to industry and the general public.

Here we discuss with EPA representative Enesta Jones two aspects of the agency’s involvement with nanoscience and technology: environmental monitoring of engineered nanomaterials, and international regulation of the industry.

Andrew Maynard from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and others have said that there is an urgent need for comprehensive environmental monitoring systems to be implemented within a few years. How could the EPA play a role in facilitating the development of such systems?

“Since 2001, EPA’s Office of Research and Development STAR grants programme has funded 65 research grants totalling approximately $22 million (€16.5m). These grants have funded nanotechnology applications to protect the environment, and projects focusing on the possible harmful effects, or implications, of engineered nanomaterials. Additional applications projects have been funded through the Small Business Innovative Research programme.

“The most-recent research solicitations include partnerships with the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Research areas of interest for these proposals include the toxicology, fate, release and treatment, transport and transformation, bioavailability, human exposure, and life cycle assessment of nanomaterials. EPA will continue to devote funding to these areas, which include environmental monitoring.

The EPA is a national authority, but the issues are international in scope. The white paper makes reference to this, but there is contained within it only limited information on how research needs and actions fit into a coordinated inter-agency research strategy. Can you give us specific examples of current coordinated activities? And what about coordinating regulatory as well as research efforts?

“The EPA is active in the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) through membership in the Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET) subcommittee of the Committee on Technology of the President’s National Science and Technology Council. Through participation in NSET, several of its workgroups, and direct interactions with other federal agencies, EPA has leveraged its research funds as well as increased its ability to assess nanoscale materials. In addition, the Agency is collaborating with academic researchers in an effort to obtain needed information and provide feedback on current knowledge gaps in these areas.

“EPA is actively engaged in coordinating nanotechnology research and strategies internationally with other members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). EPA represents the US government in the OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials. Member states of the EU (as well as the OECD member countries such as Japan, Canada, etc.) are involved in the OECD’s work programme, and the US and European Commission are co-leading the work areas on safety testing and test guidelines.

“EPA is also working with the European Commission and other entities, coordinating workshops and symposia, and participating in various nanotechnology standards setting initiatives. For example, the United States and European Union Initiative of June 2005 addresses both regulatory and research areas in nanotechnology. EPA is currently working with the US State Department, the NNI, and the EU to bring about research partnerships in nanotechnology.

“The Agency’s current authority to regulate new and existing chemical substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) extends to nanoscale materials. We have reviewed, and continue to review, new chemical nanoscale materials. In October 2006, EPA initiated a collaborative public process to develop a Stewardship Program for nanoscale materials. A Stewardship Program will help to increase our understanding of both new and existing chemical nanoscale materials under TSCA, and will complement our on-going efforts. EPA believes this approach will ensure that the Agency will be positioned to meet its mandate to protect public health and the environment from unreasonable risks.”

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is an executive agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, and enforcing relevant laws. The agency employs some 18,000 people around the country, its headquarters are located in Washington DC, and there are 10 regional offices and more than a dozen research laboratories.

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.