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Volume 36, Issue 12 — December 2006

Articles

A Framework Convention for Nanotechnology?

by Kenneth W. Abbott, Gary E. Marchant, and Douglas J. Sylvester

Editor's Summary: With nanotechnology now a major funding priority for governments and industry around the world, devising the manner and timing of regulation presents a challenge. Too much regulation too soon could hinder development of beneficial technologies, while too little regulation too late may allow dangerous technologies to enter the market. Kenneth Abbott, Gary Marchant, and Douglas Sylvester argue that any solution to this regulatory dilemma must have four basic characteristics: the solution must be flexible, innovative, international, and official. In this Article, they advocate a framework convention on nanotechnology as a regulatory tool meeting these four requirements. The authors use a series of case studies to reveal framework convention best practices, and conclude with a summary of how a nanotechnology framework convention might be structured.

Governance Structures for Nanotechnology Regulation in the European Union

by Geert van Calster

Editors' Summary: The United States is not the only government facing the challenges of nanotechnology regulation. The European Union (EU) is also contemplating a regulatory mechanism for this new technology. Prof. Geert van Calster discusses the EU approach in this Article. He begins with an overview of regulation in the EU, and explains how the growing trend toward coand self-regulation might be applied to nanotechnology. He then describes the impact that the Aarhus Convention may have on regulation, including access to information. The Article concludes with the prediction that the growth of nanotechnology will not lead to radically new regulation mechanisms in the EU.

Harmonization of Environmental, Health, and Safety Governance Approaches for Nanotechnology: An Overview of Key Themes

by Linda K. Breggin

I. Introduction

On May 19, 2006, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) cosponsored a Symposium entitled "Nanotechnology Governance: Environmental Management From an International Perspective" (ELI Symposium). The ELI Symposium brought together over 40 key stakeholders, including corporate, government, and nonprofit leaders as well as law firm partners and academics. The ELI Symposium focused on the development of environmental, health, and safety (EHS) governance structures--including traditional regulation, voluntary programs, industry standards, disclosure, and other approaches--from an international perspective.

Nanotechnology or nanotech is the science and technology of controlling matter at the nanoscale. The National Science Foundation estimates that nanotechnology may surpass the impact of the Industrial Revolution and could be a $1 trillion market by 2015. Nanotechnologies will be employed in many industries ranging from health care to electronics to transportation. Hundreds of products that use nanomaterials are already available today.

Nanomaterials offer the potential for many environmental benefits including remediation technologies, monitoring, and green production. Little is known, however, about the potential human health and environmental impacts of nanotechnologies. Although the research addressing the health risks of exposure to nanomaterials is just beginning, a recent article in Science described some of the initial work conducted, noting that the studies suggest that nanomaterials "are not inherently benign and that they affect biological behaviors at the cellular, subcellular, and protein levels." In addition, the article notes that "some nanoparticles readily travel throughout the body, deposit in target organs, penetrate cell membranes, lodge in mitochondria, and may trigger injurious responses."

Nanotechnology Oversight and Regulation--Just Do It

by Jennifer Kuzma

Editors' Summary: The emergence of nanotechnology in the early part of this century has presented a host of regulatory challenges. Effective governance is complicated by the range of materials and methods implicated in nanotechnology itself, as well as a lack of political will to devise regulatory strategies for this new technology. In this Article, Prof. Jennifer Kuzma explains the particular complications of nanotechnology regulation and suggests that creating new laws and institutions might not be the best solution to nanotechnology regulatory reform. Rather, she argues, nanotechnology regulation must be prioritized, and may be accomplished using legal structures that are already in place.

Flexibility, Clarity, and Legitimacy: Considerations for Managing Nanotechnology Risks

by Jonathan M. Gilligan

Editors' Summary: Risk assessment is one tool of legal and policy decisionmaking, and one that may play a large role in establishing nanotechnology policy and regulations. In this Article, Jonathan Gilligan analyzes different methods of risk assessment and applies these methods to nanotechnology. Gilligan challenges the notion that people perceive and react to risk in a logical way, postulating that both experts and laypeople are susceptible to irrationality when it comes to risk perception. He concludes with a determination that a singular approach to risk management of nanotechnology may not be enough; rather, multiple risk management methods should be utilized depending on qualitative assessments of different nanotechnologies.

Keeping Pace With Nanotechnology: A Proposal for a New Approach to Environmental Accountability

by Lee Paddock

Editor's Summary: The rapid growth of the nanotechnology industry that challenges traditional governance structures also calls for new approaches to accountability. Accountability mechanisms would help avoid adverse effects of the evolving technologies, foster public confidence in nanotechnology, and encourage the development of new, beneficial technologies. In this Article, Prof. Lee Paddock illustrates some of the tools of environmental accountability that may be employed in the context of nanotechnology. He discusses how traditional accountability mechanisms already inherent in the federal environmental statutes may be applied, and emphasizes the need for flexibility in permitting, public involvement, voluntary accountability programs, and opportunities for industry self-regulation. He concludes by suggesting the creation of a Nanotechnology Council to bring stakeholders together to address accountability issues.