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We should create our own 'official and recognized' standards and certification laboratory that will stamp nanotech products safe with a "NUL" (Nanotechnology Underwriters Laboratory) stamp so that the world can be comforted the product being bought has successfully met the highest tests for safety and sustainability at an internationally accepted independent testing body created and backed by the entire nanotechnology industry - worldwide.
July 10th, 2011
An Underwriter's Laboratory for Nanotechnology
An Underwriter's Laboratory for Nanotechnology
Optimally dealing with Nanotech's Safety and Sustainability Issues
Alan B. Shalleck
What should the Nanotechnology "industry" do to satisfy those who worry about Nanotechnology safety and sustainability while ignoring the obvious economic and commercial benefits of creating and selling nanotechnology including products? The answer is obvious. We should create our own ‘official and recognized' standards and certification laboratory that will stamp nanotech products safe with a "NUL" (Nanotechnology Underwriters Laboratory) stamp so that the world can be comforted the product being bought has successfully met the highest tests for safety and sustainability at an internationally accepted independent testing body created and backed by the entire nanotechnology industry … worldwide. In other words, enough chaotic conflicting standards e.g. Europe vs. US. Let's do it ourselves. One standard … all backed by the industry… approved by governments and green organizations…with a visible stamp of approval and a public listing. I wrote about this idea five years ago, received kudos for the idea but note, nothing has happened in the interim except the chaos has gotten worse. It is time to re-raise the issue and move to fund and create the NanoUL.
Those that cry the ‘beware! danger!" wolf get visibility but those who independently create and market nanotech containing products safely and successfully, get no media coverage. Claiming risk, safety, dire processes, a second GM catastrophe, etc. sell articles, magazines, and make good TV and radio programs. They provide food for Ph.D. dissertations and well paid consulting gigs. In this age, specters, fear, imminent disaster and death get viewers while a safe and proven stain reducing tie using nanotech gets none. Those headlines belie the truth.
Thirteen years after the first National Nanotechnology Initiative in the States, the short term and long term risk from "top down' nanotech is proving to be minimal. No one so far has died from nanotechnology manufacturing or use. The industry is carefully self-policing. Still the fear mongers want many products banned from initial sale until proven 1000% safe (whatever that means). Contrast that with the automobile. Over 45,000 people have died in auto accidents every year in the States alone but no one talks about banning the auto. What happens when true ‘bottom up' nanotechnology emerges is moot.
It is better for the nanotech industry to use it's own sustainability standards, testing labs and safety criteria on its new products than to have the government impose pre-marketing regulations, un proven testing programs and restrictive standards that would serve only to keep good Nano products and benefits off the market.
Some compromises practically have to be made. The industry can't be choked to death by the fear and scare tactics employed by some of the ‘green" lobbying groups. Nor can it be cavalier to not accept that there may be elements of nanotech that are environmentally unfriendly and need restriction.
What hasn't been considered is how to keep the smaller nanotech companies in business while assuring the general public that the commercial products these small, highly innovative companies are introducing to the market won't harm those who use them or do damage to other environmental elements (or life) on disposal and/or recycling.
I'm repeating my suggestion from three years ago. It is even more relevant today. The nanotechnology industry needs to create a quasi-independent entity like the Electrical Industry's Underwriters Laboratory to provide the necessary safety and efficacy testing the general public needs. A UL listing on an electrical device is a stamp of approval for the safe use of an electrical product under all conditions. A UL Listing is a requirement in most building codes and is accepted as a sign an industrial or commercial product can be safely used.
If the nanotech industry created a Nanotech Underwriters Laboratory (NUL) that was fully funded by the industry, received a major annual grant from the Government, was designed to have all relevant instrumentation and to provide testing procedures agreed by interested nanotechnology expert parties to rate new nanotech product offerings, most in the world could feel comfortable that similar standards and tests are being applied to any product with a NUL listing. A small nanotech company then would not then have to add to its staff many environmental and safety testing people or to incur huge expense by outsourcing testing to meet the requirements of a framework like the DuPont framework just to introduce its developments commercially. It could simply send the product with preliminary analyses (along with a fee in dollars to be determined by the scope of testing required) to the Nanotech Underwriters Lab for testing and listing. By centralizing and standardizing environmental and safety evaluation and rating in its own certifying laboratory, the industry could go a long way toward making the general public accepting of the accelerating stream of new nanotech developments emerging from all those small innovative nanotech ventures world wide.
An advantage of a centralized and authorized independent testing company is that testing results and knowledge would be cumulative in the laboratory. Soon the NUL would be a centralized repository of most wisdom regarding nanotech safe processes, materials and effects. The industry could draw on this growing centralized body of knowledge in its product development and could benefit from speedier "listing" as those working at the NUL would recognize similar prior tests and analogies that could characterize "newly" presented products and quickly approve them.
Last, who should propose, organize and coordinate the NanoUL? Clearly the unofficial ‘official' industry association….The NanoBusiness Commercialization Association. I look forward to reading that the NBCA has put forth such a proposal. It would find great acceptance in the industry.
Alan B. Shalleck
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