The text below is derived from an article in the Spring 2006 issue of Resources.
First, he said, gaps exist in statutory authority, most obviously with respect to two common uses of nanomaterials - cosmetics and consumer products. "A wide variety of nano-based consumer products have already begun to enter the market as sporting goods, clothing, cleaning materials, and kitchen appliances. Similarly, nano-based cosmetic products already range from skin creams to spray-on foot deodorizers, all with significant exposure potential (dermal, inhalation, and ingestion) and little publicly available risk data," Davies said.
|Beginning a Dialog
"We should now begin a dialog among major interested parties that acknowledges the shortcoming of the existing regulatory framework and identifies what needs to be done," Davies said. As a starting point, he addressed three questions that he has frequently been asked since the release of his January 2006 project report:
Regarding the first question, Davies pointed out that every technology of the scope of nanotechnology has had adverse effects and that decades of study have shown that fine particulates can be harmful. While the current state of knowledge cannot answer how harmful nanotechnologies are, he said, "it raises red flags concerning some materials and products" and "enables us to ask the right questions," he said.
The topic of testing leaves Davies less to be optimistic about. There are currently no laws requiring manufacturers to test the health and environmental effects of nanomaterials, and because long-term testing in particular is so costly, companies are often tempted to skip it.
Finally, Davies addressed the question of developing an oversight system in the face of knowledge gaps. Although more information is needed before adequate regulations can be put in place, Davies stressed that it is not too early to start discussing the outlines of such a system. He pointed out that early data suggests that there are at least 80 nanotechnology consumer products on the market and more than 600 nanomaterials being used by manufacturers already - creating some urgency to the issue. In addition, the process of discussion can itself "help foster international harmonization, research, and public participation."
Getting It Right
In his concluding remarks, Davies said that the future of nanotechnology hinges on sustaining public confidence, which in turn depends on adequate government oversight. "Based on polling and focus groups, I believe that the public will hold both government and industry to a higher standard of safety for nanotechnology than it has for any previous technology," he said. Failure to meet this standard will generate intense public pressure, eliminating the opportunity Davies says the legislative community now has to carefully deliberate with stakeholders.