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No Regulation of Nanotech

When the United States government formally acknowledged the world-changing potential of nanotechnology a decade ago, it was decided that America should lead the way. Almost immediately, 25 different federal agencies began scrambling to find uses for the engineered particles in medicine, energy, transport, weapons, protective devices and food, as well as thousands more real and dreamed-about applications.

Today, the U.S. is at the fore of worldwide nano-innovation. But when it comes to regulations and laws that will protect consumers and workers from the potential hazards, the country lags badly behind many other nations.

"The government agencies responsible for protecting the public from the adverse effects of these technologies seem worn and tattered," former Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator Clarence Davies wrote in a study for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, where he is now a senior adviser. Davies, who while at the EPA authored what became its all-important Toxic Substances Control Act, adds that the gap between the capabilities of nanotechnology and those of the regulatory system "is likely to widen as the new technologies advance."