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Nanotech companies need clear environment and health roadmap to succeed

Washington, DC Today, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies released the results of a new survey of New England-based nanotechnology companies aimed at discovering how firms in almost every sector of the economy address the possible environmental, health and safety (EHS) impacts of new nanoscale materials and products. The survey found that these firms lack a clear roadmap of government EHS expectations and regulations for successful commercialization, as well as the information needed to meet those expectations.

Last year, worldwide investment in nanotechnology topped $12 billion dollars and the value of nanotechnology goods manufactured globally reached $50 billion. But the survey indicates that as nanotech industrial and consumer applications enter the market, U.S. companies need more information and guidance from suppliers, trade associations, government regulatory bodies and others to manage risks effectively.

The report, authored by John Lindberg and Margaret Quinn of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, is drawn from an online survey distributed to 180 managers from nanotechnology firms in the Northeast. It included in-depth, follow-up interviews with 12 firms.

The region is home to one of the greatest concentrations of companies, universities, government laboratories and organizations working on nanotechnology in America. Some firms in the study are located in Cambridge, Mass., the nations second locality to consider a nanotechnology reporting ordinance.

Lindberg and Quinn found that 80 percent of large firms were taking steps to manage nanotechnology EHS risks, compared to only 33 percent of small and micro companies and 12 percent of firms at start-up stage.

John Lindberg, the principal investigator on the study said, Many smaller firms recognize the need to address risks proactively, but few have the resources to do so. At present, the majority of survey participants expect to rely on suppliers to provide nanomaterial risk management information in the form of Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). But these do not always reflect the latest health and safety information, and regulatory or consensus guidance for these new materials is lacking.

David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, noted, The current MSDS for carbon nanotubes sold over the Internet treats them as graphite the same material used in pencils despite nanotubes bearing no more than a passing resemblance to this material. Clearly, companies are not being given the guidance they need. The findings from this study are consistent with other surveys of nanotech businesses in California, New York, and around the world. Firms are flying somewhat blind into the future and need a clear set of rules, a sense of the emerging regulatory landscape, and access to relevant research on risks in order to ensure both nanotechnology safety and profits.


Contact: Colin Finan
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

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