Technology geeks such as myself love nanotechnology. I think it’s the future of everything – including the solution to environmental problems ranging from climate change to Superfund cleanups. However, there are concerns about the toxicity of nanomaterials.
Last Friday, EPA took a significant step in the regulation of nanomaterials by publishing significant new use rules – SNURs – for both single- and multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Any person manufacturing, importing, processing, or using SWCNT or MWCNT (and you’ve got to love nanotechnology, if only for the proliferation of new acronyms), will be subject to the SNURs. The SNURs are based on consent agreements EPA had previously entered into with the original manufacturer of the nanotubes. Redacted copies of the consent agreements can be found at EPA’s regulation page.
In terms of substance, the rules include both a worker protection component, requiring impervious clothing and use of full-face respirators in certain contexts, and a requirement to prevent releases of the nanotubes to water. Uses in which the nanotubes have been fully reacted or enclosed in a polymer matrix are exempt from the rules.
If nanomaterials really hold the promise that we hope, we’re going to start seeing many more of these rules in the next few years. It must say something that we can track the progress of a new technology by the number of regulations issued by EPA, but I don’t think I’ll go there today.