Nanotechnology: EPA Regulations on the Horizon?

Earlier this month, EPA released its semi-annual regulatory agenda. True policy wonks can review the agenda here. There are always some nuggets buried in the agenda. This agenda includes two proposed rules governing nanotechnology. They are:

A reporting rule under § 8(a) of TSCA. The rule would require persons who manufacture nanoscale materials to notify EPA of information concerning production volume; methods of manufacture and processing; exposure and release information; and available health and safety studies.

A test rule under § 4(a) of TSCA. The proposed rule would apply to “certain multi-wall carbon nanotubes and nanosized clays and alumina.”

Since the entire point of nanomaterials is that they act differently than the same materials as sizes beyond the nanoscale, it is certainly conceivable that such differences could include impacts on human health and the environment. EPA can therefore reasonably propose rules such as described in the regulatory agenda, requiring testing and reporting. My concern is that EPA not leap to conclusions. EPA often has to regulate under uncertainty; I just don’t want the agency to regulate simply because of uncertainty. Nanomaterials hold the promise of contributing to the solution of numerous environmental problems, even aside from their overall economic promise.

If EPA were to obstruct the development and use of nanomaterials on the basis of the precautionary principle, the environment, as well as the economy, would likely suffer. Since Cass Sunstein, head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB, has called the precautionary principle “deeply incoherent,” let’s hope that EPA will proceed cautiously, gathering information necessary to determine if regulations are necessary, but not rushing willy-nilly to throw roadblocks in the way of such promising technology.

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