On the heels of Berkeley, California’s decision last December to impose regulations on nanotechnology businesses, the Boston suburb of Cambridge, Mass — home to MIT and my alma mater, Harvard — is now looking at nanotechnology regulation. According to the linked article from the Boston Globe, it appears that the Cambridge City Council is aware of the potential for stifling nanotechnology innovation with regulation:
We hope that nanotech is going to be a big part of new industry in Cambridge," said council member Henrietta Davis. But Davis said the city should make sure that nano-based businesses ply their trade safely. "It’s not my intention to stifle it," she said. "It’s more to be proactive."
This concept of "proactive" regulation, on which my co-blogger John Monica will be speaking this week, raises the question of how well government regulators can strike the balance between the need for innovation and the need of safety in the absence of good information about the probability and magnitude of risks associated with a given activity. On that note, I am glad that Cambridge has decided to explicitly bring industry representatives to the table when deciding whether to impose nano regulations:
Igor Linkov, managing scientist at Intertox Inc., a technology consulting firm in Brookline, said there is some evidence that nanoparticles could pose health risks. He cited a study that found that rats developed scar tissue when liquid mixed with carbon nanoparticles was sprayed into their lungs. But Linkov said far more research is needed before jumping to conclusions about the safety of nanoparticles.
"We know that some nanomaterials, at some point during their life cycle, may pose risks," said Linkov. "We really cannot quantify how high the risk is."
On Jan. 8, the Cambridge City Council voted to ask Lipson to study the nanotechnology regulation enacted in Berkeley last year, and recommend a similar statute for Cambridge. * * * The City Council ordered Lipson to study the Berkeley law and determine whether it makes sense to draw up a similar statute.
We at the Nanotechnology Law Report will continue to follow these developments.