Barely out of the lab three years ago, nanotechnology--a method used to manipulate materials at the level of individual atoms and molecules--has advanced to the point where there are more than 450 nano-enabled products in today's commercial market and more than 600 nanotechnology-related raw materials available to manufacturers.
"Given the large investments in nanotech research, development and commercialization, many more are sure to follow," says David Rejeski, director of the Emerging Nanotechnologies Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a nonpartisan think tank established by Congress in 1968.
Unfortunately for business, the paper focuses on the scientific research the EPA needs in order to regulate nanotechnology without providing any guidance on the agency's regulatory direction.
"If you're looking for real information on what the EPA is going to do, there's no point reading the paper," says Scott Walsh, project manager of corporate partnerships at Environmental Defense, a non-profit organization that partners with business, government and individuals in pursuit of solutions to environmental problems. "At most, it makes a vague allusion to the fact that the EPA will be moving very slowly in the direction of modifying existing legislation, rather than in the direction of new laws."
As Rejeski sees it, however, self-policing is not the final solution.
"It's an important development because the government doesn't have enough information to regulate effectively," he says. "But the EPA is still going to have to figure out how to get up the learning curve very quickly."