EPA announces new reporting rules on nano-sized particles manufactured in the United States

As of Aug. 14, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put into effect a working guidance for the eighth section of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) about the Nanotechnology Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements Rule. According to Nanowerk.com, this rule necessitates manufacturers and importers to provide a one-time reporting and record-keeping of certain chemicals.

The information being required by the EPA includes:

  • Manufacturing methods utilized
  • Production volume
  • Specific chemical identity
  • Available health and safety data
  • Processing, exposure, use, and release information

Because of these new guidelines, the EPA and public will now have access to information about the various nanomaterials being used for commercial purposes, making it all the easier to put forth regulatory decisions regarding them.

Materials such as zinc oxide, nanocellulose, and nanoclays would no longer be exempt from reporting requirements due to their size. These types of materials have not been mandated to report their production volume in the past precisely because of that. The same can be said for chemicals substances being produced as part of a surface film, as well as naturally-occurring nanomaterials. Even so, this new rule means that companies that manufacture or import these materials are not freed from the responsibilities of their peers.

Jennifer Sass, Senior Scientist at the health program of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has called the rule “a win for scientific transparency and public disclosure” but added that it isn’t a regulation nor a restriction.

Sass added that the “EPA must use the information it collects under this rule to inform policies that will protect human health and the environment from harmful exposures to these small-sized chemicals.” (Related: Nanoparticle technology turns personal care products toxic.)

Although the rule has only recently come into effect, the EPA begun working on it as far back as 2009. Sass further noted that the rule may have been moved through the regulatory process at a relatively glacial pace, while nanotechnology has yet to slow down. In the last decade alone, the EPA has been the recipient of well over 160 applications for new nanomaterials, such as one for carbon nanotubes that appear and behave similarly to asbestos.

The new rule could not have come at a better time.

What are nanomaterials?

Nanomaterials are materials or chemical substances that are used and/or manufactured at a tiny scale, and are usually created to display specific characteristics that make them different or superior to micron-scale materials. These characteristics will typically include enhanced strength, boosted chemical reactivity, or increased conductivity. Other times, nanomaterials are the intentional or unintentional byproducts of combustion processes like welding, or are naturally-occurring like volcanic ash or forest fire soot.

Because nanomaterials are usually generated to be easily manipulated, they have numerous practical applications in the world today. The carbon nanotubes mentioned earlier are one such example: Their high strength, low weight, and flexibility has allowed them to become a choice material for structural reinforcements. Other applications include high-power magnets, porous and lightweight insulation, long-lasting medical implants such as those being used in orthopedics, and even ductile and machinable ceramics.

Despite their practicality and potential, nanomaterials have been the focus of intense scrutiny owing to their environmental impact. Nanomaterials can easily enter air, water, and soil; after some time, the nanomaterials would have undergone biological and physiochemical transformations that would in turn make them highly reactive and toxic to both the environment and to living organisms. For instance, one 2008 study found that copper nanoparticles could reduce the growth of mung bean seedlings, demonstrating the detrimental effects that could occur from nanomaterial exposure.

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