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January 3, 2012

EPA OIG Concludes EPA Needs to Manage Nanomaterials More Effectively

Lynn L. Bergeson

On December 30, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report entitled EPA Needs to Manage Nanomaterial Risks More Effectively. According to OIG, the purpose of its review was to determine how effectively EPA is managing the human health and environmental risks of nanomaterials. OIG states that it found “that EPA does not currently have sufficient information or processes to effectively manage the human health and environmental risks of nanomaterials.” According to OIG, although EPA has the statutory authority to regulate nanomaterials, it “currently lacks the environmental and human health exposure and toxicological data to do so effectively.” EPA proposed a policy, under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), that would identify new pesticides being registered with nanoscale materials.  After “minimal industry participation” in EPA’s Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP), a voluntary data collection program, EPA has chosen to propose mandatory reporting rules for nanomaterials under FIFRA, and is developing proposed rules under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

According to OIG, even if mandatory reporting rules are approved, the effectiveness of EPA’s management of nanomaterials remains in question for the following reasons:

  • Program offices do not have a formal process to coordinate the dissemination and utilization of the potentially mandated information;
  • EPA is not communicating an overall message to external stakeholders regarding policy changes and the risks of nanomaterials;
  • EPA proposes to regulate nanomaterials as chemicals and its success in managing nanomaterials will be linked to the existing limitations of those applicable statutes; and
  • EPA’s management of nanomaterials is limited by lack of risk information and reliance on industry-submitted data.

OIG states that if EPA does not improve its internal processes and develop a clear and consistent stakeholder communication process, it will not be able to assure that it is effectively managing nanomaterial risks. OIG recommends that the Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention develop a process to assure effective dissemination and coordination of nanomaterial information across relevant program offices.  The OIG report states that EPA “agreed with our recommendation and provided a corrective action plan with milestone dates.” By January 31, 2012, the report states, EPA will convene a workgroup “consisting of representatives from all relevant offices to begin development of process.” By July 31, 2012, EPA will “[c]omplete draft document outlining process.”