March 18, 2004 – The US Environmental Protection Agency is looking at ways it can extend its authority to regulate commercial applications of nanomaterials, according to federal policy publication Inside EPA.
The EPA’s Office of Pollution, Prevention, and Toxic Substances reportedly has been mulling over how nanomaterials may fall under the jurisdiction of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates manufacturing of substances that the EPA deems may pose a potential threat to the environment or the public’s health. Because engineered nanomaterials typically involve reconfigurations of existing elements, not new chemical reactions, the agency is considering adding a policy statement categorizing each nanoconfiguration as a “significant new use” and thus subject to review and approval.
The health impact of nanomaterials such as nanotubes and buckyballs is largely unknown; only a fraction of the $3.7 billion earmarked by the federal government in December 2003 for a four-year nanotechnology research project will go toward researching their environmental impact. But tests reportedly have shown that their extremely small size and shape has caused “alarming” effects in lab animals, e.g., whether they could be unknowingly retained in the lungs — a property shared by asbestos, a well-known hazardous industrial material, according to an environmental researcher quoted in the story.
“There’s enough information right now to say we should really take a closer look at nanotechnology,” the scientist warned.