Pressure for Nanotechnology Regulation

I am just back from a really enjoyable trip to the Czech Republic during which I had the opportunity of visiting the Technical University of Ostrava and hearing something of the fascinating research they are undertaking. This was a follow up to a visit to Edinburgh by their Vice Rector, Prof Petr Klement a few weeks ago as part of a Czech nanotechnolgy delegation to the UK. The group, supported by the British Embassy in Prague, visited leading scientists in the field in Edinburgh, York and London primarily focussing on potential nano hazard and the effects of nanoparticles on the living environment with a view to sharing the UK’s best practice with the Czech experts, developing personal links with a potential for future research/policy collaboration, and also for the UK experts to find out about the nanotechnology sector in the Czech Republic. During their visit Bonaccord was honoured to host a small reception to allow the group to meet a wider range of individuals with an interest in the subject.

Over this last few weeks there has been quite a flurry of press releases on nano safety. In the US Senators Pryor and Cardin have introduced draft legislation on the subject. Under their proposal the FDA would be given responsibility for assessing the health and safety implications of nanotechnolgy in everyday products and for developing best practice guidance for companies using such technologies. According to their press release there are currently over 600 known commercial uses for nanotechnology. A few weeks later a UK survey of 46 research scientists sponsored by NanoLink Inc and TBx Consulting urged further investment in nanotechnolgy to leverage the UK’s significant science base and to avoid the policies being shaped by others.

Most of the attempts to develop regulatory regimes are looking at new technologies but these new technologies are also telling us more about the impact of more traditional technologies. One of the projects underway in Ostrava is developing our understanding of the particulates lost into the air when a car breaks and the potential hazards these may create. With a greater understanding of the mechanisms and materials involved better solutions may be developed but where would break pads fit into any new regulatory scheme? Would a new technology that involved nanotechnology in its manufacture be treated differently to a traditionally produced product that created nanoparticles through its use? What should the basis be for developing a health and safety regime that ensures appropriate product testing and maintains a level playing field regardless of the form of technology being used?

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