This week there was an interesting article by Barnaby J. Feder in the New York Times reporting on the regulation or non-regulation of nanoparticles. The article raises questions about regulating the release and use of chemicals produced as tiny particles (on the scale of nanometers - or one billionth of a meter.)
As a relatively new technology, it will be interesting to see if regulators and industry learn from past experiences with chemical releases and contamination. One lesson is precaution. I know that’s thrown around a lot lately. But, in terms of industry - take the perfluorinated chemical (PFOA/PFOS) example - where tons were realeased and they were exempted from regulation. Once it was noted as an environmental issue, industry has been able to cut back environmental release by large amounts. If only they had done that from the beginning.
Also these days we do have the capability to evaluate impacts of contaminants both on environment and on health (if you can make a distinction) on a finer scale than we could or did before. What we do with that information, could be based on what we’ve learned in the past - be cautious with chemicals that are persistant or that are constantly released into a system either by either consumer products or by industry – when we don’t know enough about the impacts on living things. I don’t know enough about nanoparticles just yet to know if they fall or would fall into either catagory but I’m not sure if anyone does at this point. I hope to learn more and write up a more detailed article on nanoparticles in the next week or so.
It will be interesting to observe the progress of nanotechnology and regulation of nanotech. Unlike previous technology or industrial chemicals/products, where many, even in the environmental health world, were unaware of a chemical’s widespread release or environmental dispersion many groups are watching this one closely. One group is the Project on Emerging Technologies.