Friday, May 15th, 2009

The Potential for Big Changes in a Small World

Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly one to 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications.  Over the past several years the field of nanotechnology has continued to evolve at a rapid pace.  What has caught my eye lately is the increasing level of government-related activities around the globe.

Here in the United States, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection held a hearing in February entitled “Revisiting the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.”  The purpose of this hearing was to address critical gaps in the statute and to explore how these gaps impact chemical safety policy in the U.S.  As part of the hearing, witnesses discussed TSCA’s inability to deal with new technologies including nanotechnology.  The definitive next steps for TSCA and nanotechnology are yet to be announced.

In addition to potential changes to TSCA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been busy with its Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP) which was developed to provide a firmer scientific foundation for regulatory decisions by encouraging submission and development of information about nanoscale materials.  When EPA released the NMSP’s Interim Report earlier this year, observers noted that the level of participation in the program was not as high as EPA anticipated.  Although EPA continues to welcome new participants and information submissions for the NMSP, people are beginning to wonder what approaches EPA may consider next.

To our north, Environment Canada announced plans to publish a notice requiring the submission of information regarding the use of engineered nanomaterials by manufacturers and users.  The information gathered under the requirement would be used to evaluate the risks of engineered nanomaterials and to develop appropriate safety measures to protect human health and the environment.  Although the publication date for this notice has changed (recent timing is proposed to be May 2009), the world is watching to see what Environment Canada does.

In Europe the European Parliament (EP) called for a provision that all ingredients present in the form of nanomaterials in substances, mixtures, or articles should be clearly indicated in the product labeling (e.g. in the list of ingredients, the name of such ingredients should be followed by the word 'nano' in brackets).  The EP also is calling for the European Commission to evaluate the need to review the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) concerning simplified registration for nanomaterials manufactured or imported below one ton; consideration of all nanomaterials as new substances; a chemical safety report with exposure assessment for all registered nanomaterials; and notification requirements for all nanomaterials placed on the market on their own, in preparations, or in articles.

Changes to nanotechnology including potential regulations feel like they may be coming soon.  In order to help members keep up-to-date on the various activities, I highly encourage them to become part of SPI’s Nanotechnology Group.  The group’s mission is to provide a forum for nanotechnology resin and additive suppliers, processors and equipment suppliers within SPI to address nanotechnology issues, activities and opportunities related to the plastics industry.  Also if you are planning to attend NPE2009, stop by the “Business of Nanotechnology” educational event to hear nanotechnology experts talk about the latest activities around the globe.  To see a list of sessions, search here using “Nanotechnology, Sponsored by SPI's Nanotechnology Group” in the pull-down track field.  

Big changes are definitely afoot in the small world of nanotechnology.

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