July 20, 2012
The NanoBusiness Commercialization Association is pleased that Julie Deardorff’s July 10, 2012, article on nanotechnology (“Scientists: Nanotech-based products offer great potential but unknown risks”) acknowledges the significant potential nanotechnology offers humanity. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted in its seminal Nanotechnology White Paper (EPA 100/B-07/001 February 2007), “nanotechnology presents potential opportunities to create better materials and products…improve the environment, both through direct applications of nanomaterials to detect, prevent, and remove pollutants, as well as indirectly by using nanotechnology to design cleaner industrial processes and create environmentally responsible products.” Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent guidance documents on nanomaterials in cosmetic products (mentioned in Ms. Deardorff’s article) and on assessing the safety of emerging technologies of food ingredients and food contact substances acknowledge the benefits of nanotechnology and confirm the adequacy of existing regulatory controls to identify and address the potential impacts on human health derivatives of products subject to FDA jurisdiction.
What is less satisfying about Ms. Deardorff’s article is the misleading impression she leaves with the reader, namely that there is much unknown about nanomaterial risk. As active proponents of the safe commercial development of nanotechnology, the NanoBusiness Commercialization Association believes your readers would have been better served with a greater balance in the article, and clearer and more definitive recognition of what authoritative health, safety, and regulatory bodies around the world have acknowledged—yes, the state of the science regarding nanomaterials is evolving, but commercial applications of nanotechnology are safe, effective, and products are manufactured with an extraordinarily high degree of product safety and stewardship. Consider, for the moment, a few facts.
First, no nanomaterial that has ever been put into the stream of commerce has ever been determined to cause toxic effects. None. Nanosilver has safely and effectively been used for over 60 years as an antimicrobial agent. EPA last year registered the first nanopesticide after an intensive multi-year science review. The registration process is scientifically demanding, public, and very transparent. The nanopesticide product met the high safety standard required under federal law. Ms. Deardorff’s article makes no mention of this impressive accomplishment.
Second, not only are sunscreens containing nanoparticles “user-friendly” as Ms. Deardorff correctly notes, they “have the best safety profile of today’s choices.” This quote is not from an industry source; the statement is from the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep ® Sunscreens 2012 report. EWG is a respected public health interest group that, among many other activities, annually ranks sunscreen products. According to EWG, “mineral sunscreens [titanium and zinc, which “often contain micronized or nanoscale particles of these minerals”] have the best safety profile of todays’ choices. They are stable in sunlight and do not appear to penetrate the skin. They offer UVA protection, which is sorely lacking in most of today’s sunscreen products.”(Emphasis added). Ms. Deardorff’s article neglected to mention this unqualified endorsement of sunscreen products containing nanoparticles by one of the most well-recognized and respected public health activist organizations in the world.
A third fact overlooked by Ms. Deardorff is the extraordinary global effort underway to define and characterize nanoscale materials of all shapes and applications. Our own federal government efforts are reflected in the National Nanotechnology Initiative (www.nano.gov). Internationally, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) globally collaborative effort through the Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (www.oecd.org/env/nanosafety) reflects a stellar international level of collaboration that represents the very best qualities in scientists and regulatory bodies throughout the world. None of these highly successful domestic and international efforts is even mentioned by Ms. Deardorff let alone meaningfully explored.
Finally, Ms. Deardorff neglects to note that nanoparticles are all around us, and have been since the creation of the universe. Trees and plants are producers of nanoparticles, and humans have been creating nanoparticles since Roman times in products such as stained glass and swords. The major new development with nanotechnology today is that the research and development community is more aware of, cautious, and sophisticated in its approach to the generation and management of nanoparticles.
Since the United States Congress, with the strong support of Presidents Clinton and Bush, passed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act in 2003, consumers in America and across the world have greatly benefited from an historic partnership between industry, academia, and government working in concert to ensure the health and safety of nanotechnology. Far from avoiding efforts to explore potential hazards and troubling areas in nanotechnology, the nanotech sector, lead by NanoBusiness Commercialization Association has aggressively pushed for increased government research funding. The nanotech sector itself has spent billions of dollars to ensure that nanomaterials are safe and effective.
Nanotechnology has, is, and will always be with us. Today, leaders in the field are appropriately harnessing the power of nanoscience and directing it into nanobusiness thereby bringing its life-enriching discoveries to every man, woman, and child for the enhancement of our lives and society as a whole. These indisputable truths are worthy of mention. The Chicago Tribune has a well-deserved reputation for balanced and excellent reporting. Ms. Deardorff’s article fell far short of the paper’s usual standards. Instead of edifying her readers with a well-researched and useful article on nanotechnology products, Ms. Deardorff elected to cherry-pick statements that fundamentally misrepresent the state of the science of nanomaterials and nanosafety. The NanoBusiness Commercialization Association respectfully submits that consumers and informed readers everywhere deserve better.