The US GAO (Government Accountability Office) has published a report, in which it identifies severe challenges to the EPA regarding the regulation of potential risks associated with nanotechnology. According to the report summary, in this Report to the Chairman, Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate , entitled Nanotechnology: Nanomaterials Are Widely Used in Commerce, but EPA Faces Challenges in Regulating Risk, GAO: (1) identified examples of current and potential uses of nanomaterials, (2) determined what is known about the potential human health and environmental risks from nanomaterials, (3) assessed actions EPA has taken to better understand and regulate the risks posed by nanomaterials as well as its authorities to do so, and (4) identified approaches that other selected national authorities and actions U.S. states have taken to address the potential risks associated with nanomaterials’.
GAO identified ‘a variety of products that currently incorporate nanomaterials already available in commerce across the following eight sectors: automotive; defense and aerospace; electronics and computers; energy and environment; food and agriculture; housing and construction; medical and pharmaceutical; and personal care, cosmetics and other consumer products. Within each of these sectors, GAO also identified a wide variety of other uses that are currently under development and are expected to be available in the future’.
GAO notes that ‘[a]lthough EPA is planning to issue additional regulations later this year, these changes have not yet gone into effect and products may be entering the market without EPA review of all available information on their potential risk. Moreover, EPA faces challenges in effectively regulating nanomaterials that may be released in air, water, and waste because it lacks the technology to monitor and characterize these materials or the statutes include volume based regulatory thresholds that may be too high for effectively regulating the production and disposal of nanomaterials’.
GAO makes a number of recommendations for executive action by the EPA:
- The Administrator of EPA should complete its plan to issue a Significant New Use rule for nanomaterials
- The Administrator of EPA should modify Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) pesticide registration guidelines to require applicants to identify nanomaterial ingredients in pesticides
- The Administrator of EPA should complete its plan to clarify that nanoscale ingredients in already registered pesticides, as well as in those products for which registration is being sought, are to be reported to EPA and that EPA will consider nanoscale ingredients to be new
- The Administrator of EPA should make greater use of the agency's authorities to gather information under existing environmental statutes. Specifically, EPA should complete its plan to use data gathering and testing authorities under TSCA to gather information on nanomaterials, including production volumes, methods of manufacture and processing, exposure and release, as well as available health and safety studies
- The Administrator of EPA should make greater use of the agency's authorities to gather information under existing environmental statutes. Specifically, EPA should use information-gathering provisions of the Clean Water Act to collect information about potential discharges containing nanomaterials
- The Administrator of EPA should consider revising the Inventory Update Rule under Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) so that it will capture information on the production and use of nanomaterials and so that the agency will receive periodic updates on this material