Friday, January 26, 2007

Controlling Toxics?

While researching regulation and toxicology of nanomaterials for a post on this page, I was directed towards the following report produced by Environmental Defense: “Toxic Ignorance: The continuing absence of basic health testing for top-selling chemicals in the United States.

Interesting reading which discusses the gaps in the U.S. EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). According to the EPA, TSCA was “enacted by Congress to give EPA the ability to track the 75,000 industrial chemicals currently produced or imported into the United States. EPA repeatedly screens these chemicals and can require reporting or testing of those that may pose an environmental or human-health hazard. EPA can ban the manufacture and import of those chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk.”

Environmental Defense’s 1997 report suggests that sufficient human health and environmental toxicity data exists for only a relatively small percentage of chemicals, (even those produced in high volume). More recently Environmental Defense points to recent progress by EPA and industry towards addressing data gaps.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


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.