Earlier this week a coalition of public interest, environmental and labor organizations published their nano-oversight recommendations in:
“Principles for the Oversight of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterial,” July 31, 2007
The coalition begins its paper with the observation that “[t]he current situation does not give us hope that we will ‘get it right’ with nanotechnology,” . . . “manufacturing and laboratory settings operate without proper safety guidance or protection measures,” . . . consumers are being exposed to nanomaterials "without being informed of potential risks" . . . and "nanomaterials are being disposed of and released into the environment despite unknown impacts" and adequate detection methods.
The coalition then provides eight specific recommendations based on this assessment. Obviously, many of the recommendations only make sense if you accept the coalition’s rather bleak assessment of the current state of nano-affairs. Nevertheless, the coalition’s Eight Fundamental Principles are:
1. A Precautionary Foundation – The coalition believes “[w]hen an activity raises threat of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” This principle places the burden on manufacturers to provide comprehensive EHS testing data before their products are released into the market. The coalition says the principle is simply “no health and safety data, [means] no market.”
2. Mandatory Nano-Specific Regulations – The coalition believes the federal government has failed to act on this issue in a timely fashion. Accordingly, it recommends the adjustment of current environmental regulations on a temporary basis to cover nanoscale materials until comprehensive new nanospecific laws are enacted. These future laws would have retroactive application. The coalition also takes the position that voluntary initiatives are wholly inadequate because of trust and transparency concerns.
3. Health and Safety of the Public – This principle advocates preventing known and potential exposures to nanomaterials that have not been proved safe. The coalition notes inadequate federal funding for the underlying research in this area, and that existing standards must be scrutinized for their applicability when developing EHS tests.
4. Environmental Protection – This principle advocates a full life-cycle analysis for environmental, health, and safety issues prior to the commercialization of any product containing nanoscale materials. The coalition also recommends increased government funding for EHS research.
5. Transparency – The coalition recommends mandatory product labeling for all products containing nanoscale materials; amending workplace right to know laws to cover nanomaterials; the creation of a publicly accessible government sponsored EHS inventory; and making all safety testing data available for public review.
6. Public participation – The coalition believes there should be equal input from all interested and affected parties, and that it should be meaningful, not “one way” or after the fact.
7. Inclusion of Broader Impacts – Another principle is that larger considerations should be given to the possible disruption of markets for existing commodities; military uses of nanomaterials; and the enhancement of human performance. The coalition also asserts “social impact, ethical assessment, equity, justice and individual community preferences should guide the allocation of public funding research.”
8. Manufacturer Liability – Finally, the coalition believes nano-manufacturers “must be held accountable for liabilities incurred from their products.” It also advocates the creation of a recovery fund by manufacturers to ensure funds are available to compensate potentially injured parties.