EPAâ¿¿s Nanomaterial Stewardship Program is Encouraging to Some and a Failure to Others

Back in January 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a program called the Nanomaterials Stewardship Program in which companies manufacturing products containing nanomaterials would be asked to provide voluntarily information on those materials to the EPA.

In a recent article, entitled Nanotechnology: New Risks but No Rules, published by the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy, the author after making a bit of a mess of his nanotechnology definition and array of applications presents two different perspectives on the how the EPA program has fared to date.

Well, not really. He presents one and trots out the other for ridicule. We are initially presented with Richard Denisonâ''s, senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, rather dark assessment of the program. We get what I imagine for the author constitutes fair and balanced reporting with phrases like â''â'¿11 months into the program, only 29 companies and organizations had enrolled, submitting information on a mere 123 out of a total of 2,084 potential nanomaterials.â''

In case you didnâ''t notice the words â''onlyâ'' and â''mereâ'' were to indicate to us that these numbers fall rather short of what they should be. And he gets Denison to chime in with agreement. Oh boy, big businesses are being bad.

And to give you further evidence of their bad behavior, the author presents a chemical industry spokesman who says that the voluntary program has been successful in getting the largest players in the field of nanotech to sign up. How dare he, especially after the author and Denison had so clearly established what a failure it is.

After making its main point the article does manage to get down to the real issue facing regulating nanomaterials: do you regulate a material because of its chemical composition or its particle size? You know, are carbon nanotubes graphite or something different?

This is a big issue and so it gets bounced to the back of the article. And what is the answer to this problem? Why put at least $100 million into researching it, of course. Fair enough, but could you maybe give us a theoretical framework by which we reinvent the periodic table?

The funny part of this is that the one specific nanomaterial mentioned in the article, nanosilver, could be a risk not because of its particle size but because silver ions may be released from the product it is integrated into. In other words, its risk appears to be associated with its chemical composition rather than its size.

Oh dear, this does get complicated. Maybe we should make it $200 million.

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