Nanotechnology: The Challenge of Regulating Known Unknowns
Wilson, Robin Fretwell
Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 2006 Winter; 34(4): 704-713
Media reports of the health hazards posed by nano-sized particles (NSPs) have turned a white hot spotlight on the risks of nanotechnology. Worried about the risks posed to workers producing nano-materials, the Washington Post has labeled nanotechnology a "seat-of-the-pants occupational health experiment." This article examines our emerging knowledge base about the hazards of two types of exposure: inhalation of NSPs and topical application of products containing NSPs. It argues that a clear-eyed evaluation of the benefits and risks of nanotechnology is made extremely difficult by the marriage of a complex science with a venture capitalist-like hype. It then suggests that, absent additional statutory authority, governmental regulators cannot readily address the risks posed by these products. This regulatory inaction leaves a significant role for the private insurance market, a role that regulators should support in tangible ways outlined in the article.
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