Last week the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) published, "Regulating Emerging Technologies in Silicon Valley and Beyond: Lessons Learned from 1981 Chemical Spills in the Electronics Industry and Implications for Regulating Nanotechnology." Readers may recall that SVTC was one of eight groups filing a May 2006 FDA citizen’s petition asking the agency to take concrete steps to regulate all FDA products containing nanoscale materials. SVTC is back with additional concerns regarding possible community environmental impacts of nanomanufacturing.

SVTC begins by identifying several federal regulatory issues it believes need immediate attention: increased NNI funding for EHS research; collection of EHS data for all nanoscale materials; determining whether mass-based metrics are appropriate for nano-regulatory purposes; developing efficient instruments to detect and monitor nanoparticles; making sure manufacturers issue proper material safety data sheets; closing alleged nano-regulatory gaps in TSCA, RCRA, CWA, CAA, CERCLA, and EPCRA; closing the “loophole” created by TSCA’s small quantities exemption; making sure the CWA and CAA specifically address nanomaterials; and ensuring the success of EPA’s new voluntary NMSP given the failure of similar programs in the United Kingdom and Denmark.

Based on these concerns, SVTC calls for mandatory nanospecific regulations using the precautionary principle; protection of public and worker health and safety; comprehensive environmental protection; transparency for all EHS testing data; continuing research regarding the ethical, legal, and societal impacts of nanotechnology; full manufacturer liability for any injury; treating nanomaterials as “new materials” (rather than as “grandfathered in” under existing laws); subjecting nanomaterials to EPA’s new chemicals program; developing new environmental monitoring and remediation technologies; enacting California chemical policy reform with special provisions for emerging technologies; including nanomaterials in emergency planning and community right-to-know reporting requirements; and using EPA rule-making authority to ensure that regional water and air quality control agencies have adequate authority to regulate nanotechnology.

Finally, SVTC advises that if “companies are unresponsive to community requests for information, the next step is to approach local elected officials and request laws supporting community access to information about what chemicals are being used and the dangers posed by any accidental release into the environment." Further, SVTC recommends that if the surveyed companies do not have answers, or are unwilling to do the fundamental research to provide such answers, "they should not be allowed to operate in the community." To this end, SVTC’s proposed community survey covers the following topics:

  • company information, including its name, location, contact person, phone number, and a description of any nano-related activities occurring at each facility;
  • all chemicals and nanomaterials currently used at the facility;
  • the precautions and cleanup plans the company has made, if any, to protect nearby communities from exposure to harmful substances;
  • any empirical studies the company has conducted to determine whether there are any toxicological and epidemiological risks posed by its use of nanoscale materials;
  • the company’s ability to detect and monitor nanomaterials, including those in the environment already and those which might be released by their facility;
  • standards for permissible levels of exposure to chemicals and nanomaterials used at the facility; 
  • performing a life-cycle assessment and creating an end-of-life management plan for all nano-products produced; and
  • monitoring worker health at the facility.