At a recent nano-technology conference in Switzerland, officials from the U.S. and the U.K. reported mixed experiences with voluntary reporting schemes for the production and use of nanoscale materials. The event was NanoEurope 2008, an international specialist nanotechnology congress which attracted more than 3000 people from 22 countries. Experts from major industry segments such as Life Science, Energy, Automotive, Electronics and Textiles spoke about the latest developments in the field of material functions and processes and already established products. Also on the agenda was a Nano Regulation Conference.

Nanotechnologies are hailed by many as the next industrial revolution. They promise to change everything from the cars we drive to the clothes we wear, from the medical treatments our doctors can offer to our energy sources and workplaces. Although focused on very small particles, nanotechnologies offer large potential benefits. From new cancer therapies to pollution-eating compounds, from more durable consumer products to detectors for bio-hazards like anthrax, from novel foods to more efficient solar cells, nanotechnologies are changing the way people think about the future.Nanotechnology is unfolding enormous innovation opportunities, but also poses potential risks for humans and the environment. MassTortDefense has posted on this here and here.

In the recent past, a variety of voluntary measures such as risk management systems, codes of conduct, or disclosure agreements have emerged. The conference offered an overview of different aspects of and experiences with voluntary measures. Speakers noted variations in the quality of the reports submitted, low participation rates, and concerns about the protection of confidential business information.

For example, James Alwood, program officer in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics’ Chemical Control Division, noted that the initial experience with EPA’s Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP) has been positive, although the quality of the responses received has been mixed.

EPA is developing the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program to complement and support its new and existing chemical efforts on nanoscale materials. The program is intended to:

• Help the Agency assemble existing data and information from manufacturers and processors of existing chemical nanoscale materials;
• Identify and encourage use of risk management practices in developing and commercializing nanoscale materials; and
• Encourage the development of test data needed to provide a firmer scientific foundation for future work and regulatory/policy decisions.
• Encourage responsible development.

A total of 22 organizations have participated in the NMSP to date, submitting information on more than 93 nanomaterials. But EPA still needs better data to make decisions on basic issues such as the definition of nanostructure material. An interim report is due early 2009.

Steven Morgan, nanotechnologies policy advisor with the U.K. Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, described the Voluntary Reporting Scheme (VRS) for Engineered Nanoscale Materials established in the UK. Launched in September 2006, the scheme has resulted in 12 submissions to date, out of an estimated 35 British commercial businesses and 55 research institutes involved in nanotechnology. Business confidentiality remains an issue, particularly with a such a hot new technology. U.K. authorities apparently are already looking to bring the nanotechnology sector within the EU’s REACH regulations (“registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals”) by 2012.