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April 7, 2008

SVTC Calls for Increased Regulation of Nanomaterials

Lynn L. Bergeson

On April 2, 2008, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) released a report entitled Regulating Emerging Technologies in Silicon Valley and Beyond: Lessons Learned from 1981 Chemical Spills in the Electronics Industry and Implications for Regulating Nanotechnology.  According to SVTC, the emergence of nanotechnology is similar to the electronics industry in the early 1980s, when new manufacturing processes ultimately resulted in groundwater pollution throughout Santa Clara County. The report provides a case study of the regulatory landscape in Santa Clara County and traces the “clear and alarming parallels” to current regulations for nanotechnology. SVTC outlines recommendations for policy reform, based on closing existing gaps in data, technology, and safety. The report includes a set of sample questions that SVTC intends for communities to use to gather information about the use and safety of nanomaterials and processes in nearby facilities.

SVTC participated in the non-governmental coalition that prepared the “Principles for the Oversight of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials,” which was first released in August 2007. SVTC reprints the Principles in its report.  SVTC also makes the following recommendations, “based on the lessons learned in the electronics industry”:

  1. Nanomaterials should be treated as new materials and should be subject to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new chemicals program. SVTC states that special attention should be paid to the storage, transportation, monitoring, and modeling of nanomaterials.
  2. Environmental monitoring and remediation technologies should be developed in conjunction with new facility installation. According to SVTC, EPA should require that companies using nanomaterials include the development of monitoring and remediation technology as part of any new facility.
  3. California chemical policy reform should make special provisions for emerging technologies, and state efforts to target nanotech and “clean tech” as growth industries should also include the development of new ways for state agencies to coordinate health and environmental data collection, health studies, environmental monitoring and detection technology, public information and education, and emergency response to accidental releases.
  4. Include nanomaterials in emergency planning and community right-to-know reporting requirements. According to SVTC, requiring the inclusion of nanomaterials in the Toxics Release Inventory and on material safety data sheets “will increase public knowledge and access to information about the presence of nanomaterials in the community.”
  5. EPA rule-making authority should be used to ensure that regional water and air quality control agencies have the authority to implement monitoring controls on nanotech facilities. SVTC states that “EPA has the option of listing certain nanomaterials as toxic water pollutants, thereby enabling local agencies to impose monitoring and technological controls.”