WHY HAS THE NANOTECH INDUSTRY SELF-REGULATED MORE THAN MOST EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES?
CP:What you keep hearing over and over again within the industry is that they don´t want another genetically modified organism fiasco. Not that GMOs have necessarily been proven dangerous; nonetheless, they have essentially been rejected within Europe. So the nanotech industry wants to build a world market for their products, and are therefore being much more careful than an emerging industry normally would be because they have such a recent and vivid example of the very problems they want to avoid.
HS: There´s really no way for us to know the extent to which the industry actually is self-regulatingâ€or if it´s happening at all. Because the names and chemical formulas of materials and their nano-scale counterparts are the sameâ€for example, graphite and nanotubes are both carbonâ€there has been a false assumption on the part of industry and government that they could be treated the same in terms of regulation. Researchers and product developers, on the other hand, were well aware that they were dealing with essentially different materials that have different structural properties and different behaviors. When we informally surveyed companies several years ago we found that some were requiring measures as simple as dust masks, while other companies were treating nanoparticles as hazardous materials. Recently, there has been a shift in attitude and awarenessâ€industry and governments are belatedly recognizing that the lack of information about toxicological risks is a problemâ€and today there's growing recognition that regulations are needed.
BASED ON WHAT WE DO KNOW ABOUT THE INDUSTRY, HOW SHOULD NANOTECH BE REGULATED?
CP:That´s a huge debate going on right now. For one thing, the U.S. and Europe haven´t even agreed to a fundamental approach to regulation: in Europe, they tend to regulate from the process side, while in the U.S., regulations apply to the product side of the industry. Right now, in this country, we´re dealing mostly with â€passiveâ€ nano materialsâ€found in products like sunscreens and a special coating on baseball batsâ€and are trying to figure out whether we can get by with tweaks to existing legislation, or if we need new regulations altogether. As for â€activeâ€ nano-devices [such as the precision guided tumor killers featured in PopSci´s August issue], we don´t really think about those that much, since our systems aren´t set up to deal with them. However, there is still the potential for some crossover: any active nano-device that has a medical application, for example, will have to adhere to the standard medical regulations, which are plenty strict as is. In terms of less-regulated areas, like cosmetics, it´s more problematic.
HS: Regulations need to be mandatory and based on precautionary principles. They need to provide for well-funded and comprehensive research into the health and environmental risks posed by nanoscale materials, while also considering issues related to control and ownership of the technology, and the enormous societal impact it will have on jobs, trade, and commodities. Our group also believes in the need for intergovernmental oversight in the form of an independent international body dedicated to assessing major new technologies.
WHO´S MORE AT RISK: WORKERS DEALING WITH NANOMATERIALS IN THEIR RAW STATE, OR CONSUMERS USING END PRODUCTS CONTAINING NANOMATERIALS?
CP: When you look at the list of risks, the workers ARE in much more danger than the consumer. The industry is trying to implement good practice rules, and surveys have already taking place so that a standardization of rules can happen, but it's still in the early stages.
HS: It's likely that the greatest risks involve free-engineered nanoparticlesâ€that is, those not embedded in a matrix. Therefore, whomever comes in contact with these materials, whether it be workers handling them in the manufacturing stage or consumers at the end stageâ€with cosmetics and sunscreens, for exampleâ€could be at risk. It also means that the release of nanoparticles into the environment should be prohibited.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.