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EPA's first nanoproduct-focused regulation

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The press and the blogosphere have been echoing EPA's new nanoproduct-focused regulation. Yes, EPA has decided to "regulate" silver nanoparticles used in various consumer products such as high-tech odor-destroying shoe liners, food-storage containers and air fresheners. The silver nanomaterials are used to kill germs. However, there are worries that they will harm beneficial bacterias:
Until now, new products made with tiny germ-fighting particles of silver did not have to pass muster with regulators. That has concerned environmentalists and others who think that the growing amount of nanosilver washed down drains may be killing beneficial bacteria and aquatic organisms and may also pose risks to human health.
Companies using silver nanoproducts will have to prove to the EPA that their product is safe. According to WP:
Under the new determination, first reported on Tuesday by the Daily Environment Report, a Washington publication, and confirmed yesterday by the EPA, any company wishing to sell a product that it claims will kill germs by the release of nanotech silver or related technology will first have to provide scientific evidence that the product does not pose an environmental risk. "We will be able to evaluate them and ensure that these products are not going to do damage to the aquatic environment," said Jim Jones, director of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs.
I have not really seen the so-called "regulation" so I am not able to give my analysis here. However, there are several questions that can be asked:
  1. What will happen to products already on the market? Does this apply retroactively? Do they need to be suspended pending the scientific findings?
  2. Does this mean that it shifts the burden of proof from EPA to producers? Supposed EPA declared that a product is OK, but then someday something happens to the product (i.e. it turn out to be harmful for the environment) to what extent would the producer be liable for the product, either under environmental, health or consumer law?
  3. Since it deals with nanosilver, is it OK to cover similar products in a single exam? Scientific assessment may raise the burden of cost for the industry, if there is a product that is more or less similar, it could be economical to cover them in one assessment, rather than doing multiple assessment. To what extent will this be regulated?
  4. What are the relationship between this regulation and other regimes?