Experts blast US nanotech report

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A US government plan to prioritise research on the potential environmental, health and safety impacts of nanotechnology has been criticised by a leading researcher on emerging nanotechnology.

The eight-page government report was released for public review last month, having been prepared by a working group of the Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology Subcommittee (NSET), part of the National Science and Technology Council.

The report follows last year's release of a list of nearly 70 concerns brought about by advances in nanotechnology and the subsequent commercialisation efforts.

But the federal plan has come under fire for falling far short of its specifications, according to David Rejeski, head of the Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

"The federal nanotechnology risk research agenda is a bit like a ship without a captain, and it is unclear who has the responsibility to steer this ship in the right direction and make sure that it reaches its destination," he said.

Although the new NSET report pares down the original listing to 25 research activities, the end result is a "simplistic list of priorities", according to Rejeski.

"It falls far short of the carefully crafted, prioritised federal nanotechnology environmental, health and safety research plan urgently called for by leaders from both parties in Congress, industry, investment firms, scientists and consumer groups.

"Notably absent are important details like budget allocations, implementation time frames and assigned responsibilities.

"The report reflects the government's failure, after allotting over $8bn for nanotechnology research since fiscal 2001, to develop a coordinated, prioritised and adequately funded programme to characterise potential risks to human health and the environment associated with processes and products involving engineered nanomaterials."

Rejeski said that funding for nanotechnology-related research should be directed towards agencies which have, or support, regulatory missions.

These include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

"If this document is truly meant to serve as a basis for a risk research strategy, there is a long way to go," Rejeski concluded.
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