International Coalition Calls for Strong Oversight of Nanotechnology

ON July 31, an international coalition of consumer, public health, environmental, labor and civil society organizations spanning six continents called for strong, comprehensive oversight of the new technology and its products.

The manufacture of products using nanotechnology has exploded in recent years. Hundreds of consumer products incorporating nanomaterials are now on the market, including cosmetics, sunscreens, sporting goods, clothing, electronics, baby and infant products, and food and food packaging. However, evidence indicates that current nanomaterials may pose significant health, safety, and environmental hazards, the coalition (the International Center for Technology Assessment) stated.

George Kimbrell of the International Center for Technology Assessment stated, "Since there is currently no government oversight and no labeling requirements for nano-products anywhere in the world, no one knows when they are exposed to potential nanotech risks and no one is monitoring for potential health or environmental harm. That's why we believe oversight action based on our principles is urgent."

This industrial boom is creating a growing nano-workforce which is predicted to reach two million globally by 2015. "Even though potential health hazards stemming from exposure have been clearly identified, there are no mandatory workplace measures that require exposures to be assessed, workers to be trained, or control measures to be implemented," said Bill Kojola of the AFL-CIO. "This technology should not be rushed to market until these failings are corrected and workers assured of their safety."

Ian Illuminato of Friends of the Earth stated, "Nanomaterials are entering the environment during manufacture, use, and disposal of hundreds of products, even though we have no way to track the effects of this potent new form of pollution. By the time monitoring catches up to commerce, the damage will already have been done."

The coalition's declaration outlines eight fundamental principles necessary for adequate and effective oversight and assessment of the emerging field of nanotechnology.

1. A Precautionary Foundation: Product manufacturers and distributors must bear the burden of proof to demonstrate the safety of their products: if no independent health and safety data review, then no market approval.

2. Mandatory Nano-specific Regulations: Nanomaterials should be classified as new substances and subject to nano-specific oversight. Voluntary initiatives are not sufficient.

3. Health and Safety of the Public and Workers: The prevention of exposure to nanomaterials that have not been proven safe must be undertaken to protect the public and workers.

4. Environmental Protection: A full lifecycle analysis of environmental impacts must be completed prior to commercialization.

5. Transparency: All nano-products must be labeled and safety data made publicly available.

6. Public Participation: There must be open, meaningful, and full public participation at every level.

7. Inclusion of Broader Impacts: Nanotechnology's wide-ranging effects, including ethical and social impacts, must be considered.

8. Manufacturer Liability: Nano-industries must be accountable for liabilities incurred from their products.

"We're calling upon all governmental bodies, policymakers, industries, organizations, and all other relevant actors to endorse and take actions to incorporate these principles," said Beth Burrows of the Edmonds Institute, a public interest organization dedicated to education about environment, technology, and intellectual property rights. "As new technologies emerge we need to ensure new materials and their applications are benign and contribute to a healthy and socially just world. Given our past mistakes with 'wonder technologies' like pesticides, asbestos, and ozone depleting chemicals, the rapid commercialization of nanomaterials without full testing or oversight is shocking. It is no surprise that the public of the 21st century is demanding more accountability."

For more information, contact the International Center for Technology Assessment at http://www.icta.org.

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