Nanotechnology Deskbook Explores the Impact of Law and Regulation on Nanotechnology

Materials manufactured to nanoscale can make microprocessors faster, sunscreen more protective, oil drilling bits harder, and rocket propellant more powerful. Because these nanotechnology products are unprecedented today, there is a great debate about how to regulate them under current environmental laws, some of which are more than 30 years old. How the debate unfolds may slow or restrict the commercial use of nanomaterials – and limit their benefit to industry and consumers. Revolutionary new nanotechnology manipulates material structures measured in nanometers – one billionth of a meter, or approximately 1/100,000 the width of a human hair.

“Now is the time to think through a regulatory strategy that will advance the nanotechnology revolution while addressing concerns about its effects on human health and the environment,” says Tracy D. Hester, a partner in the environmental law practice of Bracewell & Giuliani’s Houston office. “The debate over nanotechnology is already in full swing.”

Mr. Hester’s innovative work integrating environmental law and nanotechnology has led to his co-authorship, along with Lynn L. Bergeson, of the Environmental Law Institute’s new Nanotechnology Deskbook. The book is the first general resource to analyze and comprehensively describe the impact of environmental law and regulation on nanotechnology.

Some environmental groups have called for a moratorium on the use of nanomaterials until their safety and environmental sensitivity can be determined. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pursuing increased use of voluntary testing and stewardship by industry. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs and large corporations are speedily exploring the unique properties and benefits of nanomaterials and looking to market them quickly and safely.

With these efforts rushing ahead, the Nanotechnology Deskbook addresses day-to-day operational and legal issues that go to the heart of ensuring that nanotechnology is viewed realistically and practically by environmental regulators. It discusses compliance implications and strategies involving a full range of laws and regulations in the United States, including the:

  • Toxic Substances Control Act
  • Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA)
  • Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act
  • Clean Air Act
  • Comprehensive Environmental Recovery, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)
  • Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA).

A key theme of the Nanotechnology Deskbook is that the evolution of a plan to assess how existing environmental laws apply to nanomaterials is essential for the growth of the industry. Mr. Hester recommends what he calls “an adaptive approach,” adding: “Because there aren't, and likely will not be for some time, nanotechnology-specific laws and regulations, a focus on how to use current statutes and regulations will identify where new action is needed.”

The Deskbook outlines how such a regulatory regime could be structured and operated, and presents potential solutions for integrating it with product liability, securities, insurance, and other practical business issues.

“Nanotechnology will open up many industries to fundamental change,” Mr. Hester says. “From the tiniest of circuits to the finest of filters, from more effective sunscreen and food product packaging to stronger body armor for the military, technologies made with nanomaterials are already beginning to transform many process and product applications.”

By examining the practical aspects of regulation, as well as the importance of assuring that regulation of the nanotechnology industry be sustainable and focused on actual risks, the Nanotechnology Deskbook presents a comprehensive assessment that the industry can navigate through the regulatory maze to achieve legal as well as technological breakthroughs.

Bracewell & Giuliani's environmental attorneys regularly help clients achieve their business objectives amid complex environmental laws and regulations. That includes sophisticated environmental counseling, litigation, and enforcement defense across all major environmental issues and statutes. The group advises many development-stage companies engaged in the growing nanotechnology field, and its lawyers are well versed in the environmental implications of nanotechnology production. Tracy D. Hester is a leader in this practice and frequently speaks on the environmental regulation of nanomaterials at national and international conferences and other industry forums, including those sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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