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Environmental groups dispute about nanotechnology

We mentioned earlier a request for comment on a proposed Nano Risk Framework for approaching nanotechnology materials safety organized by Environmental Defense and DuPont. Now a different group of organizations has come out against that framework. Their statement is titled “Civil Society-Labor Coalition Rejects Fundamentally Flawed DuPont-ED Proposed Framework“. An excerpt:

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.

It may be true that “voluntary regulations have often been used to delay or weaken rigorous regulation,” but I would want to see more data on that. It seems to me that voluntary regulations may also often be the first step toward enforced safety standards. I’d want to see a study of this question before dismissing the ED-DuPont effort. It’s easy to put out a press release ridiculing other people’s work, but it would be more helpful for the ETC Group to present a substantive proposal of their own. —Christine

3 Responses to “Environmental groups dispute about nanotechnology”

  1. Hope Shand Says:

    I’m glad that you picked up on the open letter from civil society and labor organizations, rejecting the proposed ED/Dupont Nano Risk Framework. However, it isn’t correct to imply that ETC Group is somehow the ringleader on this effort. Did you notice that the open letter was signed by lots of organizations from all over the world? Including the AFL/CIO, Natural Resources Defense Council, Third World Network, International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers, Center for Technology Assessment and many more. All of these groups were asked to distribute the open letter in their networks. ETC Group was just one of them – and we were pleased to be among this broad coalition of groups that have publicly rejected a voluntary risk framework for nanotech. The letter does not “ridicule” ED/Dupont’s work, but it strongly rejects a voluntary framework as the starting point for nanotechnology policy, oversight and risk analysis. Speaking for ETC Group, we have already made a proposal — and that is for a moratorium on the commercialization of new products containing novel, engineered nanoparticles until lab protocols are put in place to protect workers, and until regulations are in place to protect consumers and the environment. Given that so much is unknown and uncertain surrounding the health and safety of engineered nanoparticles, and in the absence of larger societal debate – we believe those regulations must be mandatory, and based on the Precautionary Principle and they must go beyond a discussion of health and safety to include broader societal issues.

  2. Christine Peterson Says:

    Thanks for the clarification and corrections, Hope.

    But let’s look at a key issue: Are voluntary guidelines often/sometimes the first step to useful regulations, or not?

    This is an important point, I think. Have you seen any studies on this? I haven’t looked into this, but I would guess that voluntary guidelines might often lead to actual regulations. Any data available? Thanks. —Christine

  3. Kungfublood Says:

    It can only be hoped that the voluntary guidelines such as those that have been in place in Mr. Cheny’s office will be the first step to useful regulations. Of course the resultant deaths and disfigurement as a result of the lack of oversight is a necessary component of the self regulation policy.

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