Friday, June 10, 2011

Nanotechnology News You Can Use

Nanotechnology is a hot topic these days, mainly because people are trying to figure out how, or even whether, to regulate them compared to the same chemical in non-nano form.  Nano, of course, refers to very small sized versions (usually < 100 nanometers) of chemicals that may already have widespread use (e.g., carbon, titanium dioxide, etc.).  The question comes down to whether the small size gives the substance different physical-chemical properties and/or makes it more likely to cause toxicity.

On June 9, 2011, the White House issued a memo instructing regulators in all federal agencies to use "flexible, adaptive, and evidence-based approaches that avoid, wherever possible, hindering innovation and trade while fulfilling the federal government's responsibility to protect public health and the environment."  The memo cautioned agencies to "avoid making scientifically unfounded generalizations that categorically judge all applications of nanotechnology as intrinsically benign or harmful,” and offered ten principles to address concerns.

Meanwhile, on the same day, the USEPA announced a proposed policy for obtaining information on what nanoscale materials are contained in pesticide products.  The proposal relies on a case-by-case approach to determine if a nanoscale ingredient should be considered "new active or inert ingredient" despite having a non-nano form already registered under FIFRA, the US pesticide law.

Finally, the FDA has gotten into the act by "taking the 'first step' toward greater regulatory certainty around nanotechnology." On the same day as the EPA and White House announcements, FDA released a "draft guidance to provide regulated industries with greater certainty about the use of nanotechnology, which generally involves materials made up of particles that are at least one billionth of a meter in size. The guidance outlines the agency’s view on whether regulated products contain nanomaterials or involve the application of nanotechnology."  The guidance names "certain characteristics – such as the size of nanomaterials used and the exhibited properties of those materials – that may be considered when attempting to identify applications of nanotechnology in regulated products."

All of these announcements reflect a worldwide effort to better characterize nano-scale materials and their safety to the public and environment.


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