The BNA reported today that the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance and Technology has developed a guidance document identifying considerations for the safe development of engineered nanoparticles, or ENPs. As many of my readers know, I am deeply suspicious of regulatory agency guidance documents. Guidance is often used as a short-cut so that the agency can avoid notice and comment rule-making. Moreover, it’s generally one-sided; agencies refuse to be bound by guidance, because “it’s only guidance,” but street level bureaucrats effectively treat the guidance as regulations, so that the regulated community is effectively deprived of the flexibility that guidance is supposed to provide.
I’m pleased to say, however, that the OTA guidance appears to be a thoughtful, measured approach to safe handling of ENPs. My view is apparently corroborated by the NanoBusiness Alliance, which, according to the BNA, supports the guidance.
In this case, the guidance clearly is not a trick to avoid notice and comment rule-making. It will be issued by the OTA, which has no regulatory authority. Instead, the guidance appears to advance two goals. First, offers a simple compendium of generally reasonable steps to take to minimize the risks associated with the manufacture, handling, use, and disposal of ENPs. Second, it is intended to be a confidence builder. As the OTA notes, “increasing confidence and trust can enhance commercial prospects” for ENPs.
I certainly expect some kind of robust regulatory regime focused on ENPs down the road. However, it’s important, in this nascent state of the technology, that advocates of the precautionary principle not be in a position impose regulations that could stifle the development of a set of technologies that have so much promise in so many fields – including environmental protection. In this context, guidance such as that set forth by the OTA seems an appropriate effort at facilitating appropriate management practices without unduly burdening nanotechnology business.