The next presidential administration will face a host of complex policy issues concerning energy, the environment, food safety, consumer products and the workplace. One issue, however, that will impact virtually all of these policy areas is nanotechnology oversight.
Nanotechnology, the science and technology of manufacturing and manipulating materials at the tiniest of scales, creates endless opportunities to address the many significant social and economic challenges facing Americans. But some new nanoscale materials may present unconventional risks to consumers, workers, and the environment. Therefore, without robust oversight mechanisms to underpin safe use, the full benefits of nanotechnology may never be realized.
Today, more than 600 manufacturer-identified consumer products are available on the market using nanotechnology. In addition, there are countless other commercial and industrial applications of which the public and policymakers are not even aware. Unfortunately, federal agencies currently have to draw on decades-old laws—many of which are woefully out of date—to ensure the safe development and use of these technologically advanced products. Federal officials need 21st century tools for cutting-edge technologies. Anything short of that is unacceptable and may leave the public unprotected from emerging risks.
Given the rate of development and commercialization of nanotechnologies, time is of the essence. In order to ensure the safe development of this rapidly advancing technology, which is projected will enable 15 percent of globally manufactured goods worth $2.6 trillion by 2014, there needs to be an increase in funding for nanotechnology risk research in the fiscal year 2009 budget to $100 million and in FY 2010 to $150 million. And through early administrative action, the next president should quickly implement new oversight mechanisms for nanotechnology. Such actions include collecting safety information on uses of nanomaterials in food production and packaging; updating federal occupational safety laws; and defining nanomaterials as “new” substances under federal laws, thereby allowing agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to obtain more information on nanomaterials.
The author of this report, J. Clarence Davies, has invested significant thought into nanotechnology oversight issues in recent years. In this paper, he points to ways existing laws can be applied or changed, if necessary, to provide needed oversight of nanoscale materials. He also calls for an increase in resources to research the risks posed by these materials and outlines a plan for future study and oversight.
The goal of this report is to highlight the importance of creating sensible nanotechnology oversight policies and describe the actions that need to be taken by the next president. Many of the potential risks of nanoscale materials have already been identified, and for the world to realize the benefits of this technology the next administration must act swiftly and carefully. This will be a challenge, but one that could have limitless opportunities to improve the world in the 21st century. This report provides a blueprint for early action by the next White House and key regulatory agencies.
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies
Momentous change can come in tiny packages. Nanotechnologies have been hailed by many as the next industrial revolution, likely to affect everything from clothing and medical treatments to engineering. Although focused on the very small, nanotechnology—the ability to measure, manipulate and manufacture objects that are 1/100th to 1/100,000th the circumference of a human hair—offers immense promise. Whether used in cancer therapies, pollution-eating compounds or stain-resistant apparel, these atomic marvels are radically and rapidly changing the way we live. The National Science Foundation predicts that the global marketplace for goods and services using nanotechnologies will grow to $1 trillion by 2015 and employ 2 million workers.
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