EPA should act now on nanotechnology

EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century, J. Clarence Davies, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, May 2007

In a report commissioned by the Washington DC-based Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy expert J Clarence Davies examines the agency’s role in nanotechnology oversight, considers various ways of dealing with nanotechnology, and puts forward an action plan for government, industry and other stakeholders.

Developments in nanotechnology provide an opportunity for an oversight system that will be more effective and less intrusive than existing forms of regulation, argues Davies, and nanotechnology can also be a catalyst for the revitalisation of the EPA.

“All regulation is intrusive,” says Davies. “However, some regulation is excessively intrusive. An example is the Clean Water Act technology-based standards. Rather than setting goals or standards, and leaving it to the manufacturer to decide how best to meet them, the act requires EPA to prescribe the technology to be used by the manufacturer.”

A better scientific understanding of what characteristics of nanomaterials are associated with what types of ecological and biological behaviour is required, and Davies feels that not enough effort is being devoted to this. Also, while the definition of ‘nano’ is rather broad, in the US all chemicals are regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and ‘chemicals’ is a much broader category.

“In the short run (next couple of years), we will have to make do with the TSCA,” says Davies. “It is conceivable that in the longer run Congress could amend the TSCA to make it an effective oversight instrument, but this will be difficult to make happen politically. It is a very flawed act now.”

Much in his report could also be relevant to the European Union, although Davies points out that a big difference between the EU and US is REACH: the new EU legislation on chemicals. “It is too early to tell for sure, but my impression is that REACH is much more stringent than the TSCA, and unlike the TSCA it puts the burden of proof on the manufacturer.”

Further reading: EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century, J. Clarence Davies, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, May 2007.

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.