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Nanotech risk assessment bill introduced in US

By Rory Harrington , 29-Jan-2010

A bill under scrutiny in the United States Senate would create a new nanotechnology risk assessment program within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Under the Nanotechnology Safety Act 2010, “the health and safety implications of nanotechnology in everyday products and develop[s] best practices for companies who employ nanotechnology” would be put in place.

The measure, introduced by Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA).

It would authorise the appropriation of $25m annually between 2011 and 2015 to fund the FDA scheme. At present, the agency receives no funding for nanotechnology-specific research, analysis, or other purposes.

Specifically, the bill calls for “a program for the scientific investigation of nanoscale materials included or intended for inclusion in FDA-regulated products, to address the potential toxicology of such materials, the effects of such materials on biological systems, and interaction of such materials with biological systems.”

Under the proposals, a program manger would be charged to develop a strategic plan on how to asses the potential risks associated with the technology. The FDA would be required to report to Congress on the work of the program no later than March 1, 2012 and March 1, 2014.

Thousands of bills are introduced into the US Congress every year but only around five per cent are ever passed into law.

Risk identification

“Nanotechnology touches so many facets of our lives today and will play a greater role in the future, but the benefits to industry and consumers come with unknown risks that must be identified and managed appropriately,” said Cardin.

Senator Pryor said nanotechnology was one of the most important technologies currently being developed.

“As these products are developed and used, we must understand any potential risks to human health, safety or the environment,” he added. “My legislation will help ensure public safety and confidence in the marketplace, and it will support companies that employ nanotechnology materials.”

The senator said the FDA already had facilities, such as the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) in Jefferson, Arkansas, and its consolidated headquarters at White Oak, Maryland, that could carry out the scientific studies.

Great potential

There are over 600 known commercial uses of nanotechnology. Last year, Bernadene Magnuson, senior scientific and regulatory consultant in food toxicology with Cantox Health Sciences International, Ontario, Canada, told FoodProductionDaily.com there was great potential for nanoscience in food packaging and food industry applications. The technology, which harnesses the use of particles between one and 100 nanometers in length, could be used to provide anti-microbial coatings for food contact surfaces or packaging.

In 2004, the National Science Foundation estimated new nanotechnology-based products would contribute 2 million jobs and $1 trillion dollars in revenue to the world’s economy by 2015.

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