House Approves Nanotechnology Safety and Transparency Bill

MARCH 19, 2009 — WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.R. 554, the National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2009, by voice vote. The bill is intended to strengthen and provide transparency in federal research efforts to understand the potential environmental, health, and safety risks of nanotechnology. It is identical to H.R. 5940, which passed the House in the 110th Congress.

“Nanotechnology is already in our cell phones, cosmetics, paints, and refrigerators,” said House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) in February. “It will soon help to protect the lives of our police officers and military servicemen, and is showing promise in the treatment of cancer and in promoting wound healing. There is no doubt that the potential of this technology is vast. The bill…will foster commercialization while ensuring public health and safety, and build upon a successful interagency effort in nanotechnology.”

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), supports cooperative research efforts across a spectrum of disciplines. It has established a network of national facilities supporting nanoscale research and development. H.R. 554 requires that the NNI agencies develop a plan for the environmental and safety research component of the program that includes explicit near-term and long-term goals, specifies the funding required to reach those goals, identifies the role of each participating agency, and includes a roadmap for implementation.

The bill also assigns responsibility to a senior official at the Office of Science and Technology Policy to oversee this planning and implementation process and to ensure the agencies allocate the resources necessary to carry it out.

“A well-designed, adequately-funded, and effectively-executed research program in this area is the essential first step to ensure that sound science guides the formulation of regulatory rules and requirements,” stated Gordon. “It will reduce the current uncertainty that inhibits commercial development of nanotechnology and will provide a sound basis for future rulemaking.”

H.R. 554 also includes provisions aimed at capturing the economic benefits of nanotechnology. In 2007, $60 billion in nano-enabled products were sold; it is predicted that the number will rise to $2.6 trillion by 2014. To encourage commercialization in the U.S., the bill strengthens public-private partnerships by encouraging the creation of industry liaison groups to foster technology transfer and to help guide the NNI research agenda. The bill also promotes the use of nanotechnology research facilities to assist companies in the development of prototypes.

The bill also authorizes large-scale, focused, multi-agency research and development initiatives in areas of national need. Efforts could be organized around developing a replacement for the silicon-based transistor or developing new nanotechnology-based devices for harvesting solar energy.

Lastly, the legislation addresses future STEM workforce needs by supporting the development of undergraduate courses in nanotechnology fields and by creating education partnerships between nanotechnology companies and secondary schools.

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