Regulations of nanomaterials

Regulations and MSDS

Entering into the world of nanotechnology provides numerous surprises.  In our last blog, we provided an overview of the four pillars of Nano-Safety.  This week will be about material properties, but from a regulatory perspective.  There are many concerns by regulatory agencies regarding the effect of nanomaterials on both people and the environment.  Rules are passed and orders issued that researchers and companies need to follow.  While the details below are from a few years back, they indicate the potential impact of regulations.  The first case demonstrates how different organizations within a Government Agency can issue conflicting directions.

Manufacturers of nanoengineered products are getting frustrated by the uncertainties about the regulatory definitions of chemicals, materials, and products made with nanotechnologies.  In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) came out with its definition of a “nanoscale material”: “an ingredient that contains particles that have been intentionally produced to have at least one dimension that measures between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers,” along with a new policy stating that an active or inert ingredient will be considered new if it is nanoscale. But the size-based focus of that definition is different from the 2010 one used by the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), which says size alone does not determine whether or not a chemical is new, and therefore subject to review under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). [1]

Unfortunately, one is not given the ability to choose which rules to follow.  Typically, one can be cited for non-compliance for not following either of them, even though there are in conflict with each other.  And, it is not possible to follow both of them.

Consider the next case where a city government issues an ordinance that researchers are required to observe.

The City of Berkeley, California passed an ordinance in December 2006 requiring information be provided on all nanomaterial that will be brought into the city. [2] However, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) do not exist for the majority of nanomaterials.  So what to people do? They must comply with the regulations.  So what are the options?  CNTs have been classified as graphite (a form of carbon).  Diamonds and coal dust are also forms of carbon.  So does that mean that the MSDS for graphite can be employed for other forms of carbon?  Of course not.  But, what does a researcher do?  There is no simple answer.

If laws are passed requiring information that is not known, people will provide the best information available, which may not be accurate.  We need to be able to address these issues, but there is not a systematic approach in place. This is the real problem.  We do not have accurate information that can provide guidance in developing regulations and standards.  This blog is more of raising awareness.  Quick solutions are not available.

On a different note, there have been some very interesting research papers that have come to my attention in the last few days.  “MIT and Harvard create new, lightsabber-like state of matter: Photonic Molecules.” [3] Research done in vacuum and at very low temperatures has created “two-photon” molecules.  These photons behave like a molecule.  The reference link provides for some interesting reading.  Another MIT paper [4] indicates researchers have found a new type of magnetism.  The projection is that the “quantum spin liquid” could lead to new type so memory devices.  As with any experimental results, these need to be verified by independent researchers.  However, the concepts themselves are interesting.  If the work can develop further, there could be some significant advances in devices.  One thing that underlies these findings are the tools that permit the measurement of interactions in the nano realm.  As the tools improve, more and more “interesting” properties will be found.  Which fact brings us back to the question, how can we appropriately regulate materials that we have no idea of their true nature?

  1. From Meridian Institute Nanotechnology Portal on Tuesday, May 18, 2010

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Nanotechnology Risk Management

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