House introduces nanotech bill

The House Science and Technology Committee introduced a bill Jan. 15 about the need to strengthen federal efforts to better comprehend the potential environmental, health and safety effects of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology receives $1.5 billion annually in federal research funding, said representatives of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, an initiative launched by the Woodrow Wilson International Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2005.

The new bill, H.R. 554, is nearly identical to legislation that passed the House last year. The Senate was expected to come up with similar legislation, but lawmakers ran out of time.

The introduction of the bill comes a few months after former Environmental Protection Agency official J. Clarence "Terry" Davies wrote a report that made a series of recommendations for improving federal risk research and oversight of engineered nanomaterials at EPA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The report, titled "Nanotechnology Oversight: An Agenda for the Next Administration," makes proposals for how Congress, federal agencies and the White House can improve oversight of engineered nanomaterials. The report was sponsored by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

"We know that when materials are developed at the nanoscale that they pose potential risks that do not appear at the macroscale," said David Rejeski, PEN's director. "This new bill shows that lawmakers recognize both nanotechnology's enormous promise and possible problems. The legislation reflects mounting Congressional interest in understanding potential risks in order to protect the public and to encourage safe commercial development and investment."

The House bill comes shortly after a National Research Council panel issued a report that criticized the Bush administration's strategy to better understand and manage the environmental, health and safety risks of nanotechnology.

The Senate is expected to propose its own nanotechnology bill soon.

Nanontechnology involves the ability to measure, see, manipulate and manufacture things ususally between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter; a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers thick.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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