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Posted: January 13, 2009
EPA's voluntary approach captures only a thin slice of nanomaterials in the U.S.
(Nanowerk News) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has acknowledged that its voluntary approach to reporting has yielded only limited information on a small fraction of the hundreds of potentially toxic nanomaterials already in commercial use or in development in the United States, according to Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
In an "interim report" issued nearly a year after launch of its Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program, EPA disclosed that it has received submissions addressing less than 10 percent of the more than 1,000 nanomaterials EPA identified as likely to be in commercial production. Moreover, the voluntary submissions contain scant environmental health and safety data, and much of the information they do contain is kept secret from the public because the companies submitting the data claim it is confidential business information (CBI).
"EPA's voluntary approach has failed to provide both EPA and the public with critical data on the full range of nanomaterials in production and use in the United States," said Dr. Richard A. Denison, a senior scientist at EDF, who advised EPA on its approach to nanomaterials as a member of the National Pollution Prevention and Toxics Advisory Committee (NPPTAC). "With hundreds of nano products already on the shelves, EPA has squandered precious time while it slowly developed and pursued a program that informed stakeholders cautioned would not yield what was needed."
While still claiming the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program to be "successful," EPA's report concedes that the program has come nowhere close to assembling a full picture of research and commercial activity involving nanomaterials. The report’s other findings include:
The submissions encompassed only 1/7 of the unique chemical structures on which nanomaterials in use or development are based.
Toxicity and environmental fate data were provided for at most a few percent of these nanomaterials, confirming that only a small fraction of all nanomaterials have been sufficiently studied despite their rapid commercialization.
EPA acknowledged it cannot determine whether participants submitted information on all or only a subset of nanomaterials they produce, and whether information submitted for a given nanomaterial was complete or selective. EDF had predicted precisely this problem because of EPA's failure to include these metrics in the design of the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program.
Only four companies have agreed to consider conducting any testing, leading EPA to conclude that "most companies are not inclined to voluntarily test their nanoscale materials."
"We welcome EPA's statement that it is finally 'considering how to best use testing and information gathering authorities under the Toxic Substances Control Act' to address the remaining gaps in information," Denison concluded. "More than three years ago, the National Pollution Prevention and Toxics Advisory Committee advised EPA immediately to begin developing such mandatory measures as a supplement to the voluntary program, recognizing it would not be sufficient. EPA now needs to refocus its energies on these critical tasks."