Expert: New Law Needed to Manage Nanotechnology Risks

When it comes to protecting the public and workers from the potential safety and health risks of nanotechnology, existing laws do not offer the answer, an environmental research and policy expert contends in a new report.

Existing laws such as the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and major environmental statutes could apply to some aspects of nanotechnology, explains J. Clarence Davies in his report, "Managing the Effects of Nanotechnology." However, all of these laws lack either the legal authority or the enforcement resources to offer the public comprehensive protections from the potential risks of nanotechnology.

Davies, consequently, suggests that a new law which would require manufacturers to submit a plan to the government showing that their product does not present an unacceptable risk to the environment and the public might be the best approach to regulating nanotechnology.

Davies, who is a senior advisor for the Project on Emerging Technology and a former EPA assistant administrator during the George H.W. Bush administration, also concludes that protecting the public from the potential risks of technology will require new "institutional mechanisms," including an international coordinating organization.

Among all the options discussed by Davies in the report which range from voluntary compliance programs to an all-out ban on the commercialization of nanotechnology products or research doing nothing would be the most irresponsible, he contends.

"The public would be left unprotected, the government would struggle to apply existing law to a technology for which it was not designed and industry would be exposed to the possibility of public fear and outrage over a powerful, mysterious and potentially dangerous new technology," Davies says.

To view the report, visit http://www.nanotechproject.org/index.php?id=39.

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