EPA Nanomaterial Program Receives Scant Data in First Year

Washington, D.C., USA - A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program for gathering information on nanotechnology-related chemicals and materials has greatly expanded the EPA’s knowledge of nanomaterials. However, the voluntary program is still lacking a large amount of data on available nanomaterials, and many companies are not reporting risks associated with nanomaterials.

Launched in January last year, the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program is intended to help the EPA make regulatory decisions on nanoscale materials by providing data on nanomaterials in commercial use or in development. Numerous products now contain nanoscale materials that provide a number of benefits, such as making antimicrobial clothing, but those same nanomaterials, under certain conditions, can be harmful to humans and the environment.

The EPA released an interim report this month detailing the history of the program and what it has gathered so far. Although the EPA considers the program successful so far, it also acknowledged some large data gaps.

The EPA asked companies to voluntarily report on nanomaterials they manufacture, import, process or use. By Dec. 8, 2008, the EPA received information from 29 companies and associations on 123 nanomaterials. The EPA used slightly smaller figures (using the amount submitted by September) for the report, comparing what it gathered versus other databases on nanomaterials.

The EPA said that about two-thirds of the chemical substances on which commercial nanomaterials are based were not reported under its program, and about 90 percent of nanomaterials commercially available were not reported either. In many cases, companies that did report nanomaterials did not fully report details on their manufacturing, processing and use.

Most submissions included information the materials’ physical and chemical properties, real or expected commercial use, manufacturing and risk management practices. But, the EPA noted, very few provided toxicity or fate studies. Companies also claimed that some information is confidential business information, so the EPA is limited in what it can share about some nanomaterials.

The EPA also sought companies that would be willing to work with the EPA to test nanoscale materials. After six months, only one company agreed to participate, but by the end of the year a total of four companies had signed up. That low rate, the EPA said, "suggests that most companies are not inclined to voluntarily test their nanoscale materials."

The Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program runs until January 2010, and the EPA will continue gathering information on nanomaterials, hoping to fill in many of those data gaps.

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