(Adds analyst, European comments, paragraphs 9-10, 13-15)
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO Dec 10 The U.S. plan for the emerging
field of nanotechnology lacks vision, fails to assess risk and
leaves the industry vulnerable to public mistrust, the National
Research Council said in a report released on Wednesday.
The report found serious gaps in the government's plan for
determining if there are risks posed by nanomaterials and
called for an effective national plan for identifying and
managing potential risks.
Nanotechnology, the design and manipulation of materials
thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair, has
been hailed as a way to make strong, lightweight materials,
better cosmetics and even tastier food.
But scientists are only starting to look at the impact such
tiny objects may have. Some studies suggest nano-sized objects
may have different effects in the body than larger ones.
"The current plan catalogs nano-risk research across
several federal agencies, but it does not present an
overarching research strategy needed to gain public acceptance
and realize the promise of nanotechnology," said David Eaton,
chairman of the council's committee that produced the report
and a public health expert at the University of Washington in
Currently, more than 600 products involving nanomaterials
are already on the market. Most are health and beauty products,
but many researchers are working on ways to use the materials
for medical therapies, food additives and electronics.
The committee said the current U.S. strategy, developed by
the National Nanotechnology Initiative, did not provide for
adequate research to ensure the safety of workers, consumers
and the environment from unexpected and possibly toxic
properties of these materials.
The report said the plan lacked vision, clear objectives, a
comprehensive assessment of the state of the science, and a
"road map that describes how research progress will be measured
and the estimated resources required to conduct such
Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the House of Representatives
Committee on Science and Technology, said he shared many
concerns raised by the report and intended to reintroduce a
bill to bolster research efforts in the next Congress.
David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging
Nanotechnologies, an advocacy group, said the report echoed
calls by industry and congressional leaders for a revamped
research plan for nanotechnology.
"The administration's delay has hurt investor and consumer
confidence," Rejeski said in a statement. "It has gambled with
public health and safety."
German chemicals group BASF BASF.DE joined DuPont (DD.N),
the American Chemical Council and other industry groups in
support of the National Research Council's findings.
Raymond David, North American manager of toxicology for
BASF, said there has been "an explosion" of scientific studies
exploring the risks of nanotechnology but the research has
suffered from a lack of coordination.
He said the European Union had a framework for identifying
specific safety issues to be addressed. "In the United States,
we have not done that," he said.
The National Research Council is one of the National Academy
of Sciences, an independent organization that guides the
government on medical, scientific and engineering policy.
(Editing by David Storey)