On April 24, 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled Nanotechnology: Accuracy of Data on Federally Funded Environmental, Health, and Safety Research Could Be Improved, which contains the testimony of Robert A. Robinson, Managing Director, Natural Resources and Environment, before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Innovation. Robinson provided a summary of GAO’s findings as reported in its March 31, 2008, report entitled Nanotechnology: Better Guidance Is Needed to Ensure Accurate Reporting of Federal Research Focused on Environmental, Health, and Safety Risks. GAO was asked to focus on: (1) the extent to which selected agencies conducted environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research in fiscal year (FY) 2006; (2) the reasonableness of the agencies’ and the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) processes to identify and prioritize EHS research; and (3) the effectiveness of the agencies’ and the NNI’s process to coordinate EHS research.
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On November 8, 2007, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a memorandum regarding “Principles for Nanotechnology Environmental, Health, and Safety Oversight.” According to the memorandum, OSTP and CEQ “led a multi-agency consensus-based process” to develop principles intended to guide the development and implementation of policies for nanotechnology environmental, health, and safety oversight at the agency level.  The memorandum says that federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) “must implement sound policies to protect public health and the environment,” and “agencies that perform nanotechnology research and development or that use nanotechnology in accomplishing their mission must provide appropriate oversight.”
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On May 30, 2007, the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) released a document entitled Discussion Paper on a Policy Framework for Nanotechnology, which builds on policy issues discussed at a March 16, 2007, workshop. CIELAP states that it supports a goal statement and context for nanotechnology policy that is centered on an explicit recognition and endorsement of sustainable development.  According to CIELAP, the policy challenges for nanotechnology are enormous, and currently are dominated by a lack of scientific information and basic policy tools, including definitions and metrology; a legal and regulatory framework; and structures and resources for public engagement.  CIELAP notes that, despite these gaps, however, many parallels with other issues and institutional arrangements exist, and could be adapted for nanotechnology.  Due to nanotechnology’s extraordinarily rapid commercialization and development, speed and a strong sense of urgency are needed by government for a responsible Canadian approach to the creation of policy for this area.
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