On Regulating Nanotechnology

Sunday, September 3, 2006

An excerpt of interview from Popular Science/CNN:

Q: Based on what we know, how should nanotech be regulated?

Peterson: That's a huge debate going on right now. For one thing, the U.S. and Europe haven't even agreed to a fundamental approach to regulation: in Europe, they tend to regulate from the process side, while in the U.S., regulations apply to the product side of the industry. Right now, in this country, we're dealing mostly with "passive" nano materials--found in products like sunscreens and a special coating on baseball bats--and are trying to figure out whether we can get by with tweaks to existing legislation, or if we need new regulations altogether. As for "active" nano-devices we don't really think about those that much, since our systems aren't set up to deal with them. However, there is still the potential for some crossover: any active nano-device that has a medical application, for example, will have to adhere to the standard medical regulations, which are plenty strict as is. In terms of less-regulated areas, like cosmetics, it's more problematic.

Shand: Regulations need to be mandatory and based on precautionary principles. They need to provide for well-funded and comprehensive research into the health and environmental risks posed by nanoscale materials, while also considering issues related to control and ownership of the technology, and the enormous societal impact it will have on jobs, trade, and commodities. Our group also believes in the need for intergovernmental oversight in the form of an independent international body dedicated to assessing major new technologies.

A few comments for Christine's. We need a regulatory time frame for nanotech, from passive nanostructures to molecular nanotechnology. As far as I know, the US is still using the TSCA for nanotech and EU is trying to implement its REACH directive. Both may not be adequate as they put nanotech as "chemicals", whereas, the properties of the two product differs. I think I'd favor product-focus regulation for the time being, taking into note that the production process has already been covered in other laws such as the OSHA.

As for Shand's comment's, yes, I'd agree on international oversight. In fact, I suggest a model-law for nanotechnology regulation in addition to other international standardization. With model law, developing countries will not suffer regulational gap.