• Nanotechnologies Present New Environmental, Health and Safety Considerations for Companies
  • December 19, 2005 | Author: Jane C. Luxton
  • Law Firms: King & Spalding LLP - Washington Office; King & Spalding LLP - Atlanta Office
  • Nanotechnologies involve the manipulation of matter at sizes ranging from 0.2 to 100 nanometers (nm) to exploit unique chemical and physical properties that begin to appear in this range. To give a sense of scale, red blood cells are approximately 7,000 nm wide and human hair is approximately 80,000 nm wide.

    Some experts predict that, by 2015, nanotechnologies will contribute over $1 trillion USD per year to the world economy. This emerging field promises to revolutionize a host of industries including materials, electronics, energy, transportation, communications and healthcare. Numerous products already on the market incorporate nanotechnologies, including wrinkle and stain-resistant clothing and textiles, golf and tennis balls, automobile bumpers, cosmetics, sunscreens, dental adhesives and eye glass lens coatings.

    The rapid commercialization of these technologies has left many concerned about potential environmental, health and safety impacts. Insurance company Swiss Re recently released a report questioning whether certain nanoparticles would suffer the same fate as asbestos, a product with great performance qualities that was later found to pose human health risks, spawning litigation that bankrupted major corporations in several industry sectors.

    Fearing the unknown, some environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on development. Scientists and regulatory agencies around the world are trying to evaluate risks and design policies to manage them. International and national organizations are developing voluntary, consensus based standards to guide these efforts.

    For companies developing and marketing nanotechnologies, potential activities may include:

    • Reviewing and updating regulatory compliance programs;

    • Assessing operations to ensure that regulatory obligations have been met;

    • Developing best practices for the handling of nanomaterials; and

    • Staying abreast of the ongoing scientific and policy debates.