Current U.S. laws and regulations do not adequately protect the public against the risks resulting from the use of nanotechnology, the Washington Post reports.
A report released this morning by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a research and policy arm of the Smithsonian Institution, warns that the burgeoning nanotech industry (expected to reach $1 trillion within ten years) could be seriously hurt by a disaster or a crisis of public confidence.
Nanotechnology already has many beneficial applications in computer systems, stain-resistant fabrics, medical diagnostic tests, and cleaning up polluted sites. But nano-particles – smaller than one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair – have specific risks as well. Animal studies have shown that some can cause deadly airway blockages or can migrate from nasal passages into the brain and other organs. Other studies suggest nanomaterials can cause irreversible environmental damage once the tiny particles disperse into soil and water.
Clarence Davies, an environmental policy analyst in several presidential administrations, said policy makers and nanotechnology leaders should learn from mistakes made in the areas agricultural biotechnology and nuclear power, for example, and create stricter laws and regulations governing nanotech.
Several officials and industry representatives argued against the report’s suggestions, saying that existing regulations are adequate based on information currently available.