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Groups Reject Flawed Nanotechnology Risk Assessment Framework

(Beyond Pesticides, April 13, 2007) A broad coalition of public interest, non-profit and labor groups, including Beyond Pesticides, have issued a letter calling the international nanotechnology community to join them in rejecting a voluntary risk assessment framework. The framework, developed under the leadership of industry in conjunction with the Environmental Defense Fund, is billed as flawed and as a public relations campaign.

, or nanotech, describes the design, production, and application of engineered nano-sized materials from known chemicals such as silver, carbon, iron, or titanium. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or around one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. Concern over nanotech products comes from the fact that despite nano-sized chemicals have different properties compared with their bulk-sized counterparts, they are not being adequately regulated and may potentially pose health and environmental risks that are not being properly assessed.

The letter states:

We, the undersigned, submit this open letter to the international nanotechnology community at large. We are a coalition of public interest, non-profit and labor organizations that actively work on nanotechnology issues, including workplace safety, consumer health, environmental welfare, and broader societal impacts.

DuPont Chemical Company (DuPont) and Environmental Defense (ED) jointly have proposed a voluntary “risk assessment” framework for nanotechnology. These groups intend to circulate their proposed framework both in the U.S. and abroad for consideration and/or adoption by various relevant oversight organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

We reject outright the proposed voluntary framework as fundamentally flawed. We strongly object to any process in which broad public participation in government oversight of nanotech policy is usurped by industry and its allies. We made the decision not to engage in this process out of well-grounded concerns that our participation – even our skeptical participation – would be used to legitimize the proposed framework as a starting point or ending point for discussing nanotechnology policy, oversight and risk analysis. The history of other voluntary regulation proposals is bleak; voluntary regulations have often been used to delay or weaken rigorous regulation and should be seen as a tactic to delay needed regulation and forestall public involvement.

Nanotechnology’s rapid commercialization requires focused environmental, health and safety research, meaningful and open discussion of broader societal impacts, and urgent oversight action. Unfortunately, the DuPont-ED proposal is, at best, a public relations campaign that detracts from urgent worldwide oversight priorities for nanotechnology; at worst, the initiative could result in highly reckless policy and a precedent of abdicating policy decisions to industry by those entrusted with protecting our people, communities, and land. We strongly urge all who have an interest in nanotechnology’s future to reject this proposed framework. Respect for adequate worker safety, people’s health, and environmental protection demands nothing less.

The letter was submitted by: American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Beyond Pesticides, Brazilian Research Network in Nanotechnology, Society and Environment, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Corporate Watch, Edmonds Institute, ETC Group, Friends of the Earth Australia, Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth United States, Greenpeace, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, International Center for Technology Assessment, International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations , Natural Resources Defense Council, Sciencecorps, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Third World Network, and United Steelworkers of America.

For more information, contact: George Kimbrell, Staff Attorney, The International Center for Technology Assessment at 202-547-9359.

Nanotechnology and pesticides will be discussed by Jennifer Sass, Ph.D., at Beyond Pesticides’ 25th National Pesticide Forum, Changing Course in a Changing Climate: Solutions for health and the environment, which will be held June 1-3 in Chicago.


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