DuPont, Environmental Defense Issue Framework for Nanotechnology Safety

ON June 21, Environmental Defense and DuPont released a comprehensive framework to assist with the responsible development and use of nanotechnology and to help with the global dialogue on nanotech's potential risks.

The Nano Risk Framework is intended for use around the world by small and large companies, regulatory agencies, universities and others with an interest in commercializing nanoscale materials.

Environmental Defense and DuPont began a partnership on nanotechnology in September 2005, creating a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in science, engineering, law and business. The goal was to develop a systematic and disciplined process for evaluating and addressing the environmental, health and safety risks of nanomaterials across all stages of a product's lifecycle -- from initial sourcing through manufacture, use, and recycling or disposal.

The framework offers a thorough and usable six-step process for organizations to identify, assess and manage potential risks, officials said. The six steps within the framework include: describing the material and the intended application; profiling the material's lifecycle in this application; evaluating the associated risks; assessing risk management options; deciding and documenting actions; and regularly reviewing new information and adapting actions accordingly.

"Nanotechnology has the potential to unleash innovations in materials, energy and other fields that could lead to powerful environmental and health benefits," said Gwen Ruta, director of corporate partnerships at Environmental Defense. "Our intent is to help reap the full promise of this technology without creating unintended consequences. We want to get this right the first time around."

DuPont Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer Linda Fisher stated that the framework outlines a disciplined process for the responsible development of nanomaterials. "At DuPont, we have adopted this approach as a part of our mandatory product stewardship process, and we encourage others to do the same. While we do not see this framework as a substitute for regulation, we hope that it assists governments in drafting appropriate regulations," Fisher said.

In developing the framework, Environmental Defense and DuPont solicited and received significant feedback from a broad range of interested parties, including other businesses, government officials and academics. The framework uses proven risk-management techniques in order to fully integrate with any current environmental, health and safety practices in place within companies. It also provides several new elements that can be instrumental in understanding the unique potential risks of nanomaterials, including:

  • The recommendation to develop informational profiles (or "base sets") regarding the properties, hazards and exposures associated with a given nanomaterial.
  • Guidance on developing more detailed information on physical-chemical properties, ecotoxicity and environmental fate than has typically been used in existing risk management profiles.

In order to evaluate the effectiveness, flexibility and practicality of the framework, DuPont conducted three demonstration projects on three different classes of nanoscale materials: a new titanium dioxide-based product, carbon nanotubes and zero valent iron.

"These projects were selected not only because they are of interest to DuPont, but also because they represent a good test of the framework," said Terry Medley, DuPont global regulatory affairs director. "Each represents a different position for DuPont in the value chain and is at a different stage of development. The projects required different resources, produced varying outcomes, and each demonstrated different aspects of the framework."

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