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House: Nano-Managing The Government

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) Amendments Act of 2009, renewing a push to overhaul nanotechnology environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research. Among other things, the bill requires NNI agencies develop a plan for EHS research, how much it would cost, and a road map for carrying it out. It also sets up an EHS Tsar in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate EHS research. “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,” said House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D–TN).

The bill, which has yet to be approved in the Senate, is another indication that nano overseers are growing impatient with the current pace of nano safety research and potential regulation.

Regulators in countries around the globe have been scratching their heads about how best to ensure the safety of nanotechnology. Because the field is still in its infancy, the prevailing line of thinking has been to first ask companies to voluntarily tell regulators just what nanomaterials they are putting into products. Regulator then hope to get a sense of the scale of what they’re facing. The first such program, launched in September 2006 in the United Kingdom, got only 11 submissions. A U.S. version, launched in January 2008 by the Environmental Protection Agency, corralled another 21 in its first 7 months of operation. With more than 800 consumer products already sporting nanomaterials, it now appears governments are growing impatient with the meager participation in voluntary reporting programs. France, California, and now Canada are instituting mandatory nanomaterials reporting programs.