EU rules on nanomaterials should be exported to the US

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Small may well be beautiful but to protect public safety and prevent a consumer backlash the US should adopt European style rules on nanomaterials.

Last week the European Parliament approved cosmetics legislation requiring companies to inform the European Commission of any nanomaterials in new beauty products six months before they are launched. The Commission will then consult a committee of experts to assess the safety of the nanoparticles.

This new requirement will help guarantee the safety of nanomaterials in cosmetics and ease consumer fears.

If business and government in the US fails to follow suit, they risk squandering the multi-billion dollar potential of nanotechnology.

Lack of government spending

So far, efforts to address the nano question in the US have been woefully inadequate. In 2006, less than 3 percent of the $1.4bn federal budget for nanotech research was spent on risk assessment, according to the Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Technologies.

Not only has investment in risk research been insufficient but initiatives to involve industry in the process have been poorly conceived.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been pursuing a voluntary approach to information gathering in its Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program.

A voluntary approach is inadequate

It was therefore no surprise that its interim report contained few submissions from industry. The government must be stricter with business if it is to expect meaningful participation.

And business, in turn, should be supportive of tighter government rules on the use of nanomaterials.

It is only by committing funds to research and by sharing information that companies will convince consumers that the nanomaterials in their products are safe. But if they are not required by government to do so, individual businesses risk losing competitive advantage by behaving responsibly.

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