NRDC Advances Regulation of Nanotechnology to Protect Human Health

Washington, DC (May 15, 2007) – A report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)  accuses the U.S. government of gross failure to use its authority to protect citizens from the potentially dangerous effects of nano-scale chemistry, according to scientists and policy experts at NRDC.
NRDC scientists have created a regulatory framework for nanomaterials, a new breed of super-small industrial materials already being used in more than 500 consumer products such as baby wipes, sunscreen, toothpaste, and lipstick.
“Precautionary regulation must play ‘catch up’ to ensure worker and public safety. Without requirements for product labeling, consumers are left ignorant and vulnerable to exposure to an untested and possibly unsafe new generation of chemicals. People deserve unbiased information to protect their families,” said Jennifer Sass, nanotechnology expert with NRDC and author of the report.
In the face of government failure to take action, the new NRDC report proposes an immediate, three-part framework for regulating nanomaterials, based on already established precautionary approaches to managing toxic chemicals that are broadly agreed upon by environmental and worker protection groups:
  • Prohibit the untested or unsafe use of nanomaterials. Because preliminary data demonstrates the potential for toxicity, unsafe or untested nanomaterials should not be used in a manner that may result in human exposures or environmental releases over the lifecycle of the material.
  • Conduct full lifecycle environment, health, and safety impact assessments as a prerequisite to commercialization. Robust testing is urgently needed to identify potential risks early in development, across the lifecycle of the material. The results of testing should be made available to thepublic.
  • Facilitate full and meaningful participation by the public and workers in nanotechnologies development and control; consider the social and ethical impacts of nanotechnologies. Thepotential of nanotechnologies to transform the global social, economic, and political landscape meanswe must move the decision-making out of corporate boardrooms and into the public realm.
Several studies have associated nano-sized air pollutants with asthma attacks, heart disease, strokes and respiratory disease. Yet nanomaterials in consumer products remain essentially unregulated in the United States. Despite their unknown effects on human health, Lux Research, a consulting firm with expertise in science-driven innovation, projects that $2.6 trillion worth of manufactured goods will incorporate nanotechnologies by 2014.
Nanomaterials, some of which are as small as a 1/100,000th the diameter of a human hair, can be extremely mobile and may pass easily into the bloodstream when inhaled, swallowed or applied to the skin. Once inside the body, these materials appear to access most or all tissues and organs, including the brain.
The new NRDC report and additional information about nanotechnology is now available in NRDC Policy Library.  
Click here for direct access to a pdf version of the report.