Tuesday AM March 10th, 2009

A recent report looks at the need for testing and regulation of the rapidly developing field of nanotechnology. One of the authors of that report discussed the issue at the Baker Institute, as Ed Mayberry reports.


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image of nano molecule

Michael Depledge is a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which recently released a report on novel materials in the environment.  He talked about the challenges of nanotechnology at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“There’s a remarkable degree of ignorance about the likely impacts of nanomaterials should they enter the environment and they may pose a threat not only to ecosystems but also to human health.”

Ed: “What recommendations are made in the report?”

“Taking a much closer look at the different kinds of functionality of different nanomaterials.  So we want to try and make a priority list of those which might cause some kind of problem.  And we need to develop new kinds of toxicity tests because the ones that are currently used by regulatory agencies do not seem to be adequate.”

The commission found no evidence of harm to health or the environment, but Depledge says the pace at which new materials are being developed and marketed is beyond the capacity of existing testing and regulatory arrangements.

“It is the pace, but also it’s the plausibility that harm might occur, because if you think about it, nearly all of the environmental pollutants that we have had major incidents with in the past — things like DDT or mercury — all of those things had been found out after the event.  They’d all been through some kind of toxicity evaluation.  You know, much more care should be taken, that we need new testing systems, and that companies and businesses developing these products need to pay much more attention to ecologically responsible design.”   

Depledge is chairman of the Science Advisory Committee on the Environment and Climate Change of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research in Brussels. 

Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

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