Nanotech: Unpredictable and Un-Regulated

The ETC Group releases a new Communiqué today (08.07.2004) that provides an update on policy discussions related to nanotech health and safety issues and the glaring lack of regulatory oversight. According to the ETC Group, governments on both sides of the Atlantic are reluctantly and belatedly conceding that current safety and health regulations may not be adequate to address the special exigencies of nano-scale materials. In sharp contrast to the political climate one year ago, the potential health and environmental risks of some nano-scale technologies are being openly discussed in Europe and North America. Since mid-2002, ETC Group has called for a moratorium on the use of synthetic nanoparticles in the lab and in any new commercial products until governments adopt "best practices" for research.

"Ironically, governments are talking about the need to be proactive, failing to admit that they're at least one decade late: nanotech products are already commercially available and laboratory workers and consumers are already being exposed to nanoparticles that could pose serious risks to people and the environment," says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group in Ottawa. The US government estimates that one million new workers will be employed in nanotech-related industries within the next decade. And the global nanotech market is expected to tip $1 trillion in just seven years, according to Mike Roco of the US National Science Foundation. 

"Only a handful of toxicological studies exist on engineered nanoparticles, but not-so-tiny red flags are popping up everywhere," points out Jim Thomas, ETC Group Programme Officer based in Oxford, England. In May, the world's second largest re-insurance company, Swiss Re, warned that the unknown and unpredictable risks associated with nanotoxicity or nanopollution could make nanotechnology un-insurable.

"Will governments that are spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money to promote nanotech research adopt rigorous regulatory oversight or will they simply tinker with existing regulations and propose voluntary guidelines? When will they address seriously the wider concerns related to social and economic impacts of technologies converging at the nano-scale?" asks Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group researcher in Carrboro, North Carolina, USA.

 

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