The FDA held a public meeting on September 8, 2008, to gather information that will assist the agency in further implementing the recommendations of the Nanotechnology Task Force Report relating to the development of agency guidance documents concerning nanotechnology. In July 2007, FDA had issued a report analyzing scientific and regulatory considerations relating to the safety and effectiveness of FDA-regulated products containing nanoscale materials regulated by FDA, and making recommendations regarding these considerations. The Nanotechnology Task Force Report made recommendations which covered foods (including dietary supplements), food and color additives (including food contact substances), animal drugs and feeds, cosmetics, human drugs and biologics, and medical devices. Additionally, the Report summarized the state of the science for biological interactions with nanoscale materials.

The meeting included a plenary session led by Dr. Norris Alderson, head of the FDA Nanotechnology Task Force, followed by separate sessions for prescription and OTC drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, food additives, and others. FDA speakers reportedly were interested in comments on the circumstances under which the regulatory status of a product might change if nanoscale materials were utilized instead of the traditionally sized materials evaluated by regulatory officials when the product was first approved.

Andrew Maynard, the chief science adviser for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, told the FDA at the September meeting that they should view products containing nanomaterials as potentially “risk-added.” Maynard said that materials with a dimension less than 100 nanometers exhibit unique properties due to their small size, and thus are “value-added.” But, Maynard said, the unique properties exhibited by nanomaterials might also carry special risks. Francis Quinn, speaking on behalf of the Personal Care Products Council, offered a different perspective. For example, while nanoparticles are used in the early stages of developing sunscreens, by the time they are mixed with other ingredients they are no longer nanoscale and present no different risks than traditional sunscreens. Jay Ansell, senior director of the council, said no special labeling of nanoscale ingredients in cosmetics is needed.

But other speakers said the FDA needs to take a different approach as it contemplates regulating products containing nanoscale ingredients. The Conservation Law Foundation said that existing frameworks for assessing risks need to be updated to address nano-specific attributes such as particle characteristics. And a researcher from The George Washington University urged caution about the use of nanomaterials in dietary supplements.

As an aside, the latest report from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies addresses nano-scale silver. Silver Nanotechnologies and the Environment: Old Problems or New Challenges. The most common nanotechnology material currently used in the products is silver, which is mentioned in 235 product descriptions, such as silver-containing socks, baby carriages, air filters, coin-operated washing machines, and swimming pool treatments.

The report asserts that widespread use of nanoscale silver will challenge regulatory agencies to balance important potential benefits against the possibility of significant environmental risk, highlighting the need to identify research priorities concerning this emerging technology. The issue of assessing the risks posed by nanoscale silver was highlighted after the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) San Francisco office earlier this year imposed a fine of $200,000 on a California company selling computer keyboards and mouses coated with nanosilver. EPA issued the fine on the basis that the products should have been registered under federal pesticide law because of the company’s germ-killing claims. Due to its antibacterial properties, some have argued that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act may be used to regulate many uses of nanoscale silver.

Nanosilver is a new challenge, says the report, a problem that fits poorly into the old boxes of the existing regulatory system. EPA is crafting a Federal Register notice that will invite comment on a citizen’s petition on nanoscale silver. EPA also has a 2007 white paper on nanotechnology.