Recently, the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program received the latest round of criticism by organizations believing that the low initial enrollment is a sign of the program’s early failure.  You’ll recall that one of the concerns about the NMSP is that it will follow in the footsteps of a similar program launched by the United Kingdom.  That program, DEFRA’s Voluntary Reporting Scheme, has received little participation from UK nano companies, and critics of the NMSP are already declaring a similar fate for EPA’s program.

The Project on Emerging Nanomaterials and Environmental Defense have levied that without deadlines and mandatory regulation by EPA, the NMSP will not develop into the reporting system that EPA is looking for.  However, let’s look at the facts and progress thus far:

The NMSP was officially launched and opened for voluntary reporting on January 28, 2008 with this Federal Register notice.  In that time, two companies, DuPont and Office 2PI have registered under the NMSP.  Additionally, at least six other companies, including PPG, Dow Chemical, and BASF have agreed to begin submitting data under the NMSP to EPA.

So, in just over three months from the release of the NMSP to the time of this post (March 30, 2008), there have been two submittals and at least six commitments for future submittals by some of the largest chemical and materials companies in the world.  As more corporate leaders sign on to the program, other companies are likely to follow.  By comparison, the UK’s program has been in existence for almost two years (since September 2006), and resulted in nine submissions as of December 2007.  Eight submission commitments in three months is a far cry from nine total submissions in nearly two years.

Further, EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), the office administering the NMSP, is committed to maintain the program as a voluntary effort for two years before re-evaluating.  If, at that time, response rates are low in EPA’s opinion, Assistant Administrator Jim Gulliford has said the Office will consider making the program mandatory. 

The NMSP is still new and must be given time to develop before we look to ways to change it.  The old methods of command and control environmental regulation have been shown to not work as well as we once thought.  To that end, we need to understand the materials before we put, potentially industry crippling, controls in place.  I applaud EPA’s efforts to understand the materials and their behaviors before attempting to regulate their use.  I fully believe that regulation of nanotechnology is a "when" and not "if" proposition, but let’s understand the arena first.  Companies are answering EPA’s call for information, and I believe more will do so.  In the meantime, EPA has already shown its willingness to apply current environmental regulations, specifically registrations under the Toxic Substances Control Act and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act to help maintain the status quo while the learning curve is leveled out. 

There are still 21 months to allow companies to voluntarily submit data to EPA.  Let’s give those companies a chance to enter the program before calls to change it or institute burdensome, mandatory regulations.