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August 22, 2008

PEN Releases Report on the Consumer Products Safety Commission and Nanotechnology

Lynn L. Bergeson

On August 21, 2008, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars released its latest nanotechnology report, The Consumer Products Safety Commission and Nanotechnology, written by Dr. E. Marla Felcher. Dr. Felcher states that “[a] rapid increase in both the number and complexity of [nanotechnology-enabled consumer] products places significant responsibility on [the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)] to take the lead in regulating this new technology, but the agency is not in a position to do so.” After providing a brief history of the CPSC, Dr. Felcher asserts that the agency “has never lived up to its expectations,” and highlights five weaknesses in CPSC’s oversight capacity as exemplifying why CPSC is unable “to oversee the safety of complex, high-tech products made using nanotechnology”:

  1. Its data collection system is not nano ready;
  2. It has limited ability to inform the public about health hazards associated with nanotechnology products;
  3. It has limited ability to ensure that recalled products are removed from store shelves;
  4. It lacks sufficient enforcement personnel to identify manufacturers that fail to report nanotechnology product hazards; and
  5. It does not have sufficient authority to promulgate mandatory safety standards for nanotechnology products.