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Wisconsin Says: ‘Know Nano’

When Wisconsin lawmaker Terese Berceau first learned about nanomaterials a few years ago, she found there were many nano-based products on the market, but little research into their possible health effects. “The horse was already out of the barn,” she said, but she found it hard to get anyone interested. “It is a difficult subject to get people feeling that, ‘Geez, we should do something now.’ ”

Wisconsin Assemblywoman
Terese Berceau

But she worked at it, and her concern has paid off. The Wisconsin legislature just set up a study committee to gather information about nanotechnology and consider the policy implications. Berceau hopes that will lead to a registry, so health and environmental officials can track how the materials are being used, and how manufacturers and researchers are disposing of them.

Wisconsin is one of the first states to undertake this effort. Nano-enhanced consumer, environmental and health products have spawned a red-hot industry. Across the country, the use of nanomaterials—substances manufactured on a tiny scale, measured in billionths of a meter—is largely unmonitored and unregulated. Nanotechnology manipulates matter on a near-atomic scale in order to develop nanomaterials with surprising new properties, such as strength and super-conductivity. The results have ranged from super-strong sunscreen and bicycle frames to life-saving drugs.

“If we’ve learned anything from the BP oil spill [in the Gulf of Mexico], it’s that you should have a plan, that you shouldn’t just hope that nothing bad happens. You should have a plan so you don’t have serious consequences for public or environmental health,” Berceau said.

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Full Steam Ahead! … & Hit The Brakes

By David Funkhouser

New Haven Independent (originally posted July 29, 2010)

You may already be carrying quantum dots, carbon nanotubes and nano-silver around in your pocket: They’re all around us, part of a new industrial revolution that feeds a market for products like cell phones and bug-repellent clothing that could reach $2.6 trillion worldwide by 2015.

The federal government is trying to drive this runaway train with one hand on the throttle and another on the brakes. One agency is calling for a greater push to get nano-based products to market, while another says the government needs to put more emphasis on developing health and environmental standards.

A new General Accounting Office study laments the lack of information about the properties of nanomaterials and their potential risks and toxicity to the environment and human health. The report urges the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move ahead with plans to gather information about how nanomaterials are being used in manufacturing, and to treat nanomaterials as essentially new chemicals that would require more extensive analysis than materials already in use.

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