White House Offers Guidance on Nanotechnology Policy

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EPA, FDA respond with calls for public comments.

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Three White House offices earlier this month issued a set of joint principles intended to guide government agencies tasked with developing regulatory policies for nanotechnology.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative published their principles on June 9, seeking to promote responsible, evidence-based policies for materials that are 1-100 nanometers in at least one dimension. By comparison, a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter.

According to the White House document, nanomaterials often have distinct properties which make them useful in many fields but may also pose unique risks. Consistent with the goals of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the joint principles emphasize the importance of basing risk-management decisions on scientific evidence, revising regulations as new evidence becomes available, and encouraging public participation in the regulatory process.

The White House document also advises agencies to evaluate the risks of nanotechnology in the context of particular applications, instead of making blanket judgments that nanomaterials are either intrinsically harmful or harmless.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued documents on the same day as the release of the White House principles, highlighting the potential use of nanomaterials in many types of government-regulated products.

The EPA announced a notice describing the possible approaches to obtaining information about the nanomaterial content of EPA-registered pesticides which are under consideration by the agency. The FDA published a draft guidance on identifying FDA-regulated products, such as food packaging or drugs, which involve the use of nanotechnology.

Both the EPA and the FDA are requesting public comments on their documents as they develop regulatory frameworks for nanotechnology.

The White House principles on nanotechnology are based on an existing set of guidelines issued earlier this year for the regulation of emerging technologies.