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Press Releases :: September 21, 2006

Consumers Deserve Plan Ensuring Safety of Nanomaterials

The U.S. House Committee on Science today continued efforts to address emerging needs in the growing field of nanotechnology; specifically the lack of guidelines and regulations needed to insure the environmental, health and safety (EHS) of products resulting from nanotechnology.


"Without a prioritized Federal EHS research plan, I see no way to initiate a carefully crafted set of research programs that are relevant to the needs of the companies that will be developing and using nanomaterials and to the needs of the agencies charged with oversight of EHS aspects of nanotechnology," Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) told the witness panel.


Last fall, the Committee heard from witnesses on whether research activities currently underway through the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) were coordinated, prioritized, and funded adequately to identify and characterize potential risks to human health and the environment associated with products and processes involving engineered nanomaterials.   General consensus at the previous hearing was that current research efforts fell short.


Ranking Member Gordon and Committee Democrats stressed that the NNI must do a better job at addressing these concerns in order to avoid stalling the commercial development of nanotechnology.  The Administration indicated that agencies participating in EHS research were in the process of developing a prioritized research plan for release in early 2006. 


"But here we are today, nearly a year after our initial nanotechnology hearing on health and environmental risks, and only now has the research plan been released," added Rep. Gordon.  "Unfortunately, this is not the research plan with well-defined priorities and resource requirements we had expected to see."


As with any new field or research area, products and technologies hitting store shelves should be evaluated for potential danger to consumers.  Even though hundreds of products utilizing nanomaterials are currently available in the marketplace in everything from cosmetics to food and clothing, there still exist no scientific protocols for either safety or environmental compatibility testing.


"The EHS research we do today ultimately impacts the public’s perception of safety and acceptance of the technology," concluded Rep. Gordon.  "Lack of regulation isn’t good for the industry or the consumer.  The enormous potential benefits of nanotechnology could be easily squandered if health and safety concerns are not satisfactorily addressed.  We must strengthen the current planning and coordination process for EHS research, or implement a better approach, without further delay."


A survey of the public’s awareness of nanotechnology released this week by The Woodrow Wilson Center found that Americans were twice as likely to believe that the risks involved in products resulting from nanotechnology will outweigh the benefits.  The study deduced that now is the time to engage a regulatory framework, raise public awareness and establish a level of trust regarding nanotechnology’s benefits.


Dr. Andrew Maynard, Chief Science Advisor at the Wilson Center, recently published his own strategic plan in light of federal inactivity.  "Make no mistake," testified Dr. Maynard at today’s hearing.  "Nanotechnology is different, and there will be some materials and products developed under this banner that have the potential to cause harm. The challenge we face is how to recognize and manage this possibility ahead of time and deal with it."

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