Overseeing nanotechnology development

If you’ve ever wondered how to deal with the complexities of regulating a twenty first century technology like nanotechnology, wonder no more.  Last week, President Bush’s top advisors on science and the environment published a set of principles for nanotechnology environment, health and safety oversight.

Based on a multi-agency consensus-based process, the document outlines the principles that federal agencies “should follow … as they develop policies for environmental, health and safety oversight related to nanotechnology”.

And the overriding message? Don’t make things hard for industry.

Quoting the first lines of the first principle,

“Federal oversight approaches should be cognizant of the potential benefits of nanotechnology, including health, economic and environmental benefits…”.[1]

I was under the impression that environmental, health and safety oversight should be first and foremost aimed at preventing harm to people and damage to the environment.

Certainly, the regulatory process needs to account for multiple perspectives, including those of scientists, industry and citizens. Effective oversight will encourage innovation and sustainable advances in the long run—after all, harmful products are bad for business. And a framework for developing nanotechnology oversight can only serve to help coordinate efforts, and prevent regulation being unduly swayed by hype and speculation.

But to start a set of oversight principles with an admonition not to hold up nanotechnology development?  Mmm…
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[1] The full first principle in the document is:

“Purpose: Federal oversight approaches should be cognizant of the potential benefits of nanotechnology, including health, economic and environmental benefits, while recognizing uncertainties surrounding the evolving science and technology.  The purpose of considering environmental, health and safety oversight approaches in the context of nanotechnology is to protect human health and the environment.”

This post was first published on the SAFENANO blog in November 2007

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