Download PDF
June 25, 2010

GAO Report States That EPA Faces Challenges in Regulating Risk of Nanomaterials

Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

According to a report released today by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces challenges in effectively regulating nanomaterials that may be released in air, water, and waste because EPA lacks the technology to monitor and characterize these materials, or the statutes include volume-based regulatory thresholds that may be too high for effectively regulating the production and disposal of nanomaterials. In preparing its report, GAO identified examples of current and potential uses of nanomaterials; determined what is known about the potential human health and environmental risks from nanomaterials; assessed actions EPA has taken to better understand and regulate the risks posed by nanomaterials as well as its authorities to do so; and identified approaches that other selected national authorities and actions U.S. states have taken to address the potential risks associated with nanomaterials. GAO analyzed selected laws and regulations, reviewed information on EPA’s Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program, and consulted with EPA officials and legal experts to obtain their perspectives on EPA’s authorities to regulate nanomaterials. The report, entitled Nanotechnology: Nanomaterials Are Widely Used in Commerce, but EPA Faces Challenges in Regulating Risk, is available online.

GAO states that it identified a variety of products that currently incorporate nanomaterials already available in commerce across the following eight sectors: automotive; defense and aerospace; electronics and computers; energy and environment; food and agriculture; housing and construction; medical and pharmaceutical; and personal care, cosmetics, and other consumer products. Within each of these sectors, GAO also identified a wide variety of other uses that are currently under development and are expected to be available in the future. According to GAO, the extent to which nanomaterials present a risk to human health and the environment “depends on a combination of the toxicity of specific nanomaterials and the route and level of exposure to these materials.”

GAO’s report includes the following recommendations, all of which are “in process.” EPA’s responses are from its May 4, 2010, letter responding to GAO’s recommendations. The letter is included in GAO’s report.

  • The Administrator of EPA should complete its plan to issue a significant new use rule (SNUR) for nanomaterials.EPA response: EPA agrees. EPA will continue to issue SNURs for nanoscale materials that are new chemical substances on a case-by-case basis, as appropriate, and intends to propose a SNUR for nanoscale materials that are existing chemical substances by December 2010.
  • The Administrator of EPA should modify Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) pesticide registration guidelines to require applicants to identify nanomaterial ingredients in pesticides.EPA response: EPA agrees and intends to clarify that, as part of the application for registration, applicants for pesticide registrations which contain nanomaterial ingredients need to specifically identify those ingredients.
  • The Administrator of EPA should complete its plan to clarify that nanoscale ingredients in already registered pesticides, as well as in those products for which registration is being sought, are to be reported to EPA and that EPA will consider nanoscale ingredients to be new.EPA response: EPA agrees and is working on clarification of registrant’s responsibilities under FIFRA with respect to nanomaterials.
  • The Administrator of EPA should make greater use of the Agency’s authorities to gather information under existing environmental statutes. Specifically, EPA should complete its plan to use data gathering and testing authorities under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to gather information on nanomaterials, including production volumes, methods of manufacture and processing, exposure and release, as well as available health and safety studies.EPA response: EPA agrees and intends to propose a Section 8(a) information-gathering rule as described in the recommendation and also intends to propose a Section 4 test rule.
  • The Administrator of EPA should make greater use of the Agency’s authorities to gather information under existing environmental statutes. Specifically, EPA should use information-gathering provisions of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to collect information about potential discharges containing nanomaterials.EPA response: EPA agrees that collecting information about discharges is a critical component of understanding potential environmental risks. EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and others, is conducting research to determine whether nanomaterials may enter the water in forms and levels of concern, as well as how to detect and monitor nanomaterials in effluents and aquatic systems. Once we have these capabilities, EPA will consider whether new reporting requirements should be applied to companies who may be discharging nanomaterials into the environment, including under the CWA.
  • The Administrator of EPA should consider revising the Inventory Update Rule (IUR) under TSCA so that it will capture information on the production and use of nanomaterials and so that the Agency will receive periodic updates on this material.EPA response: EPA agrees and will consider proposing periodic reporting under the IUR for nanoscale materials.