Will Nanotechnology Reshape the EPA?

I am still digging through some older news on nanotech. But it's not such a labor when you see an article on nanotech from the mainstream media. You get the fun of working through their labored definitions of nanotechnology, then comes the catalogue of applications and benefits, and thenâ''this is typical when nanotechnology gets in the mainstream press latelyâ''you get the scare.

The Boston Globe editorial page offered up just such a piece with a twist in that it was authored by the EPAâ''s first administrator and an adviser to the Project on Emerging Technologies. Not exactly your typical beat reporters pushed to get a story in on deadline.

The op-ed asks whether nanotechnology will force the EPA to â''reinventâ'' itself to face the challenge of nanotechnology.

Not an altogether far out question. But perhaps the more fundamental question is will nanotechnology force us to change our approach to toxicology, instead of looking at the chemistry of substances will we have to examine the form and size in which these substances are present? It seems to change the mantra of toxicologists: "Hazard x Exposure=Risk". You're not quite sure what the hazard is any more.

This is not just a challenge for the EPA, but for science and the specific discipline of toxicology. Itâ''s a big one: does a chemical or material that is benign and/or inert suddenly become toxic and/or reactive when brought down to the nanoscale?


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.