Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Groups Call For Nanotechnology Consumer Protection

Oct 10: Friends of the Earth (FoE) and the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) challenged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect consumers from products laced with nanoparticles. The groups said that consumer products that currently contain unregulated nanoparticles, including sunscreens and cosmetics used by children and adults could pose new dangers to human health and the environment. The challenge was presented as FDA held its first-ever hearing on nanotechnology as it relates to FDA-regulated products. According to FDA, the purpose of the meeting was to help FDA further its understanding of developments in nanotechnology materials that pertain to FDA-regulated products. FDA said it was interested in learning about the kinds of new nanotechnology material products under development in the areas of foods (including dietary supplements), food and color additives, animal feeds, cosmetics, drugs and biologics, and medical devices, whether there are new or emerging scientific issues that should be brought to FDA's attention, and any other scientific issues about which the regulated industry, academia, and the interested public may wish to inform FDA concerning the use of nanotechnology materials in FDA-regulated products.

George Kimbrell, CTA staff attorney said, “With hundreds of nano-laced products already on the market, this meeting is dangerously overdue. For any credibility, this hearing must cut through the industry’s hype and focus on the real health and environmental risks of nanotechnology.” In May, 2006, CTA and FoE led a broad coalition of consumer, health, and environmental groups in filing the first-ever legal petition challenging FDA’s failure to address the human health and environmental risks of nanomaterials in consumer products. The petition calls on FDA to require labeling of products containing nanomaterials, as consumers currently have no way to know which products might contain the untested ingredients. The FDA has not answered the petition.

Erich Pica, FoE’s Domestic Campaigns Director said, “FDA has been sleeping at the wheel, while hundreds of sunscreen and cosmetics products have been placed on store shelves without adequate regulations and safety testing. This is one of the most dramatic failures of regulation since asbestos.” In his comments, Pica highlighted FoE’s 2006 report, Nanomaterials, Sunscreens and Cosmetics: Small Ingredients, Big Risks, which lists several hundred cosmetics, sunscreens, and personal care products containing engineered nanomaterials now on market shelves. The groups also noted that FDA had so far received several thousand public comments critical of the agency’s inaction and concerned about the health and environmental risks of nanomaterials in consumer products.

David Rejeski, Director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, testifying at the hearing said, "Thanks to the promise of nanotechnology, people will benefit from fantastic new prescription drugs and from better ways of getting existing pharmaceuticals into the body for more effective disease treatments. But new nano-enabled drugs and medical devices also place new burdens on an oversight agency that is already stretched extremely thin. There are currently 130 nano-based drugs and delivery systems and 125 devices of biomedical devices in preclinical, clinical or commercial development -- an increase of almost 70 percent just since last year. While FDA already has approved some products with materials in the nanosize range, prospects for future growth in this area -- and the burden it will place on the agency’s resources -- are striking... Nanotechnology is emerging rapidly as a transformative technology across virtually every product category FDA regulates. The stakes are extremely high -- in terms of human health benefits, financial investments, and scientific progress. It’s up to FDA, with the strong support of Congress and industry, to ensure that these nanotechnology products are safe. Unless the FDA has the capacity to address potential nanotechnology risks now, public confidence in a host of valuable nanotechnology-based products could be undermined.”

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies was established in April 2005 as a partnership between the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Project is dedicated to helping ensure that as nanotechnologies advance, possible risks are minimized, public and consumer engagement remains strong, and the potential benefits of these new technologies are realized.

In a related matter, on September 28 the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council (NRC) issued a new report that discusses the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) -- a Federal program created in 2000 to coordinate nanotechnology R&D efforts by several government agencies. The report indicated that NNI is successfully generating new technologies and fostering innovative interdisciplinary research, but the initiative’s impact on the U.S. economy is still unknown, and research on nanotechnology’s possible effects on humans and the environment has been limited and inconclusive [See WIMS 9/29/06].

Access a release from FoE with links to additional information including the FDA petition, the 2006 report and a brief explanation entitled Nanotechnology 101 (
click here). Access the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies website for their complete presentation, reports and links to extensive additional information and resources (click here). Access FDA's Nanotechnology website with links to extensive information and details on the meeting (click here). Access the U.S.National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) website for additional information (click here). Access the complete NRC report (click here). [*All]