EPA's Actions on Health Risks of Nanomaterials Called "Too Little, Too Late"

August 2, 2007


Julie Huddleston, jhuddleston@environmentaldefense.org, 202-572-3369
Sean Crowley, scrowley@environmentaldefense.org, 202-572-3331

(Arlington, VA – August 2, 2007) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must act much more aggressively to protect the public and the environment from the potential risks of engineered nanoscale materials. That urgent call came today at a public meeting on EPA’s proposal for a voluntary Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program in the only testimony given by a member of the federal advisory committee that counseled EPA to launch such a program two years ago.

These tiny high-tech materials – measuring in billionths of a meter – are already showing up in hundreds of consumer products, ranging from paints to cosmetics to stain-resistant treatments for clothing. Initial studies show that some of them may be able to enter the body and even individual cells and, once there, can cause damage.

“Two years in the making, EPA’s tepid proposals have actually set back the clock,” testified Richard A. Denison, Ph.D., Senior Scientist for Environmental Defense. “As a government response to addressing the possible downsides of the nanotechnology revolution, it’s simply ‘too little, too late.’”

Denison noted that key features of the federal advisory committee’s original proposal have been stripped out.

“We supported the original proposal for a voluntary program two years ago because it was one element of a comprehensive plan that also included regulatory steps intended to provide a ‘backstop,’ and it was to be launched and completed quickly,” added Denison. “By contrast, EPA now is calling for an open-ended program with no plan B should its voluntary plan A fall short.”

The United Kingdom has operated a similar program for over nine months and has attracted only seven companies to volunteer. The design and timing of the EPA program is likely to yield similarly disappointing participation, resulting in a very selective and skewed picture of the state of nanotechnology.

Environmental Defense instead urged EPA to rapidly develop and implement mandatory reporting rules to level the playing field for the nanotechnology industry and ensure that relevant information is communicated – a step EPA said it had initiated more than two years ago, but for which it has provided no public indication of actual progress.

Environmental Defense also opposed EPA’s decision to treat nanoscale materials as if they are no different from their conventional counterparts.

“EPA proposes to effectively ignore the very nano-ness of nanoscale materials,” concluded Denison. “This decision is not required by precedent, as EPA claims, and it reflects bad policy that flies in the face of common sense. It removes the only effective means by which any government review of the affected nanoscale materials can be assured prior to commencement of their manufacture.”

Environmental Defense has been working since 2003 to ensure that the potential risks of nanoscale materials are identified and mitigated. The organization has advocated for more federal funding for health and environmental risk research and is the only U.S. environmental NGO active at the international level in efforts to address nanoscale material risks.

For more information, see www.environmentaldefense.org/nano.

Environmental Defense’s full statement is online at www.environmentaldefense.org/toolittletoolate.