EPA decides against special treatment for nanomaterials

In a move that left some commentators scratching their heads, the US Environmental Protection Agency stated in its recently published TSCA Inventory Status of Nanoscale Substances paper that it will continue its current practice of regulating nanomaterials on a case-by-case basis.

This runs contrary to numerous research studies that show marked differences in the biological and ecological characteristics of bulk and nanoscale forms of certain chemical substances.

According to former EPA official J Clarence Davies, the agency’s current practice is inadequate to deal with nanotechnology. He believes that the EPA should instead move to recognise the novel characteristics of nanomaterials through the so-called ‘new uses’ provisions of the Toxic Substances Control Act. These provisions are not even mentioned in the new document.

At the same time as releasing the inventory paper, the EPA invited public comment on the design of a nanotechnology stewardship programme based on a voluntary reporting system. But Davies sees the two EPA documents as coming from totally different voices.

“My speculation is that the difference is accounted for by the legal constraints that pertain to the TSCA document,” says Davies. “And, more importantly, the TSCA document is policy, in contrast to the voluntary document which is a draft of a voluntary temporary programme.”

David Rejeski, Director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, asks: “What information would be required now to change the EPA’s mind on this call? And why would industry want to change a preliminary definition that doesn’t treat nano as nano in terms of possible scale- and/or structure-dependent properties? It looks like a double or triple Catch 22.”

Rejeski adds that, historically, many voluntary programmes only worked because there was a high probability of regulation. “With nano that is not the case. Also, there don’t appear to be a lot of benefits for industry in volunteering data.”

The EPA was invited to comment on this story.

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.