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Nanotechnology Report Calls for New Oversight Approach

A report written by a former EPA assistant administrator and expert on environmental research and policy says nanotechnology needs more regulatory oversight to help it fulfill its full development.

One of the countries foremost authorities on environmental research and policy, J. Clarence (Terry) Davies,  today called for a new approach to nanotechnology oversight. The former assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), argues that better and more aggressive oversight and new resources are needed to manage the potential adverse effects of nanotechnology and promote its continued development.

Davies made his statement in a report he authored that was released by The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a partnership dedicated to helping business, governments, and the public anticipate and manage the possible health and environmental implications of nanotechnology. The report, entitled "Managing the Effects of Nanotechnology," examines the strengths and weaknesses of the current regulatory framework for nanotechnology.

"It is the right time to come up with the right regulatory framework for nanotechnology -- a framework that encourages initiative and innovation, while also protecting the public and the environment," Davies said in a released statement. "The ideas presented in this report challenge business and government to work together to nurture and encourage nanotechnology and to anticipate and address its adverse effects."

Commenting on the report, William K. Reilly, former EPA Administrator and founding partner of Aqua International Partners, said "Nanotechnology holds tremendous potential -- for improvements in healthcare, the production of clean water and energy, and continued advances in our IT infrastructure. But nanotechnology can only flourish if industry and government are committed to identifying and managing the possible risks to workers, consumers, and the environment. Davies' analysis of the federal regulatory system and recommendations should spark a necessary dialogue -- among business, government and citizen groups -- about how to move forward as nanotechnology develops."

"Reaching consensus on nanotechnology regulation that encourages economic innovation and environmental stewardship will not be easy," Davies acknowledged, "but it is a challenge that we cannot ignore."

In the report, Davies argues that some current regulatory approaches may work for nanotechnology applications. "The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority it needs to review and regulate nanotechnology applications in the areas of drugs and biomedical devices," he said. "But most of the existing applicable programs are seriously flawed, lack resources, and require new thinking and funding."

The report analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of existing laws that apply to nanotechnology and outlines provisions that a new law might contain.

According to The National Science Foundation, the global marketplace for goods and services using nanotechnologies will grow to $1 trillion by 2015. The U.S. invests approximately $3 billion annually in nanotechnology research and development, which accounts for approximately one-third of the total public and private sector investments worldwide.

Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate and manufacture things usually between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.