National Nanotechnology Initiative Passes U.S. House

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National Nanotechnology Initiative Passes U.S. House

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act (H.R. 5940) on June 6, 2008 with broad and bipartisan support in a vote of 407 to 6. This bill reauthorizes and refines the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), notably strengthening the commitment to environmental and safety research.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative is the program established in 2001 to coordinate federal nanotechnology research and development. Today the NNI consists of the individual and cooperative nanotechnology-related activities of 25 federal agencies with a range of research and regulatory roles and responsibilities. Thirteen of the participating agencies have R&D budgets that relate to nanotechnology, with the reported NNI budget representing the collective sum of these.

In 2003, Congress passed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research & Development Act to reauthorize the government-wide National Nanotechnology Initiative. With key provisions set to expire this year, Congress is using this as an opportunity to revise and update the NNI. A part of this update is the requirement for a detailed implementation plan for environmental, health, and safety (EHS) research. The legislation requires the EHS plan to clarify specific objectives, agency responsibilities and be responsive to recommendations from the NNI external advisory committee. The legislation also authorizes the development of a publicly accessible database containing every EHS research project supported under the NNI.

In the Senate, the Science, Technology, and Innovation Subcommittee, chaired by John Kerry (D-MA), is currently drafting its own version of the bill for consideration this summer. Once the Senate passes its version of the bill, it will be merged with the House’s version and sent to the President for his signature.

Recently, Nature Nanotechnology published a study claiming that certain long multi-walled carbon nanotubes could have similar health effects to asbestos if they get to sensitive areas of the lungs in sufficient quantities. The study has been the source for many new reports that inferred that nanotubes could cause the same health damage as asbestos.

In response to these news reports, Sean Murdoch from The NanoBusiness Alliance has said, “The differences between asbestos and carbon nanotubes in terms of exposure are dramatic. The human exposure to asbestos before we were aware of the potential hazard was many orders of magnitude greater than that of carbon nanotubes. Asbestos was mined and manufactured in million-ton quantities for several decades in open environments by hundreds of thousands of workers, with few if any worker protections in place. In contrast, carbon nanotubes have been produced in enclosed environments in ton quantities by hundreds of workers with extensive personal protective equipment for only the past few years.”

SEMI supports a reasoned approach when addressing nanotechnology-related environmental, health and safety issues

Nanotechnology is a broad term encompassing a wide variety of materials and processes, and the differences between types of materials, processes, and applications. This suggests that one blanket approach to risk assessment will not be sufficient. The semiconductor equipment and materials industries have long been working in the nanometer scale. The overall risk assessment approach used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for conventional chemicals is expected to be generally applicable to nano materials. While SEMI believes that nanotechnology will enable a variety of benefits, it also realizes that benefits and risks must be understood and weighed. SEMI supports scientific-based research and the responsible development and application of nanotechnology. SEMI encourages its members to participate in global nanotechnology environment, health and safety initiatives to help better understand the potential EHS implications of nanotechnology and educate our numerous stakeholder groups.

Additional information on the National Nanotechnology Initiative, see

July 9, 2008