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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies > What's so important about Canada?

David Rejeski
Director
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

Abstract:
Environment Canada, the nation's environmental protection department, is reportedly planning to soon become the first nation in the world to require companies to detail their use of engineered nanomaterials - a major policy move that may prompt other nations to take similar action.

February 5th, 2009

What's so important about Canada?

Environment Canada, the nation's environmental protection department, is reportedly planning to soon become the first nation in the world to require companies to detail their use of engineered nanomaterials - a major policy move that may prompt other nations to take similar action.
The agency is reportedly planning to make a one-time request to gather information that will be used towards the development of a regulatory framework and will target companies and institutions that manufactured or imported a total quantity greater than 1kg of a nanomaterial during the 2008 calendar year, according to a spokesperson for Environment Canada. The upcoming requirement is not a regulation or rule that will require users to submit information on a continual basis, but is still an important step in the right direction.
Talks of an upcoming notice announcing the requirement come at the same time that policymakers in other industrialized nations, most notably the United States and France, are discussing their authorities to collect risk data on nanomaterials.
Earlier this year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an interim report on its Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP), a voluntary information submission program that has received limited industry participation. The EPA report notes the lack of data the program garnered and says the agency will consider how best to use the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to gather more risk data.
But maybe the expected effort of their neighbors to the north may now inspire U.S. EPA to consider how quickly to use its authority under TSCA to obtain the needed information.
Studies released by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) have concluded that TSCA is "extremely deficient," but note that updating and improving the law is no small endeavor and will take a great deal of time and resources to address. However, these same studies argue that EPA has not in recent years effectively used the tools it has under that law to address nanotechnology, which has kept the agency from identifying which substances are nanomaterials and whether they pose a hazard.
One study, Nanotechnology Oversight: An Agenda for the Next Administration, authored by former top-level EPA official J. Clarence (Terry) Davies, argues that the agency and Obama administration could submit a legislative amendment that defines nanomaterials as "new" chemical substances under TSCA - a move that would help increase oversight of the substances. The paper also argues that if, for political or other reasons, legislation seems undesirable, an alternative would be for the Obama EPA to promulgate a "significant new use rule" (SNUR) under TSCA. The act gives broad authority to cover categories of chemicals under such a rule and, once covered, the chemicals are essentially considered to be new chemicals.
At the same time, France is reportedly considering legislative language that would require risk data on nanomaterials to be submitted to an oversight agency - a significant step for policy in Europe. Since 2006, Great Britain's Defra agency has operated a Voluntary Reporting Scheme for engineered nanoscale materials, but like EPA's NSMP this program has attracted only limited industry participation. If France becomes the first country in Europe to institute a mandatory nanoscale materials reporting program, it will spark debate over whether this step should be taken by all European Community member countries.
The public and the environment are being exposed to new nanomaterials on a frequent basis - it hard to argue this is not true. However, governments lack information on the type, quantity and possible risks of nanoscale materials being manufactured and used in products today.
So what's so important about Canada? Well, the information gathered under the expected Canadian requirement will be used to evaluate the risks of engineered nanomaterials and will help to develop appropriate safety measures to protect human health and the environment - a step that may inspire other governments to take similar action. That's what is so important.



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