It has been a little over a year since the American Bar Association published its "Innovative Regulatory Approaches” to Nanotechnology discussion paper in June 2006. During the intervening period, EPA published its White Paper and its TSCA voluntary framework. Both provide some general idea of where EPA is heading with environmental regulation, and in this context it is useful to take a glimpse back at the ABA paper.
The authors explained that the history of environmental regulation in the US has produced a regulatory system focused on controlling workplace exposures and end-of-pipe/fence line emissions, enacting management standards for hazardous wastes, and requiring increased information disclosure and risk assessment for new chemicals and pesticides. The authors also provided some insight into why they believe nanotechnology may require a different approach: the speed at which it is developing; competitive pressures; limited resources available to government regulators; difficulty in enacting new federal environmental legislation; level of scientific uncertainty and the complex risks involved in nanotechnology; difficulty in monitoring nanoscale releases; and the importance to the industry in maintaining public confidence.
The authors propose a new integrated approach to nanotechnology regulation to address these issues . Under this multifaceted approach, “[t]he goal would be to avoid the rote application of existing regulatory approaches to these 21st century technologies if a better way exists.”
In order to accomplish this goal, the ABA authors suggest several environmental accountability, mechanisms: traditional regulation and enforcement; new approaches to regulations including flexible standards; enhanced monitoring and public reporting; well-defined liability standards, voluntary industry programs, improved public education, corporate social responsibility programs, and relevant stakeholders dialogues.
Looking back, with EPA’s recent White Paper and TSCA voluntary stewardship papers published within the past 6 months, the latter mechanisms suggested by the ABA authors will undoubtedly take on renewed importance and deserve further development.