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February 6, 2008

CRS Report Reviews Possible Risk Management Approaches for Congress to Consider

Lynn L. Bergeson

According to a January 22, 2008, Congressional Research Service (CRS) report entitled Engineered Nanoscale Materials and Derivative Products: Regulatory Challenges, questions about the need for, and ideal form of, nanotechnology regulations are “exceedingly difficult” to address, given the current state of scientific understanding. CRS considered challenges faced by scientists, entrepreneurs, and agency officials involved in the National Nanotechnology Program as they work to define the characteristics of nanomaterials; the environmental, human health, and safety (EHS) risks they might pose; and how any potential risks should be addressed. The report states that challenges include the wide variety of nanomaterials and applications; lack of basic information about their properties; lack of conventions for naming, measuring, and identifying nanomaterials; the proprietary nature of some critical information; the need to prioritize federal resource needs; and a possible lack of clear statutory authority or appropriate regulatory framework to anticipate or respond to any identified risks. CRS states that, should Congress choose to intervene, it might choose any of several approaches: increasing funding for workshops in standardization or other research relevant to identifying and possibly ameliorating any EHS concerns associated with nanomaterials; changing the allocation of research money among agencies or the interagency research management structure; adopting a national or international research strategy; or enacting legislation that authorizes, mandates, or constrains agency actions to require information collection or to restrict production, sale, use, or disposal of nanomaterials.