The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) Strategic Plan Draft was posted at http://strategy.nano.gov for public comment on November 1, 2010.  The NNI was launched in 2001 with 8 agencies and now consists of the nanotechnology-related activities of 25 agencies.  Fifteen of these agencies have R&D budgets related to nanotechnology.

In reflecting on the 10-year history of U.S. nanotechnology research and development, the NNI Draft highlights its work as having “established a thriving nanotechnology R&D environment, laid the crucial groundwork for developing commercial applications and scaling up production, and created demand for many new nanotechnology and manufacturing jobs in the near-term.”  (Draft, p. 1)  Looking to the future, the NNI notes that nanotechnology R&D is “far from full realization.”  (Draft, p. 2)  The goals of the NNI continue to be broad:  continued development of R&D; developing the technologies into products for commercial and consumer use; and developing the physical and human resources to achieve these goals.

Goal 4 of the Draft Strategic Plan is “Support responsible development of nanotechnology,” including the twin goals of understanding and managing the risks of the technologies.  Among the NNI participating agencies in 2010 are EPA, FDA, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The NNI Draft Strategic Plan focuses directly on the benefits of nanotechnology, rather than the risks.  But many of the participating agencies – and many more – need to be involved on the risk side of the proverbial risk-benefit analysis.  This is happening, as reported previously in posts on this blog ranging from FIFRA to TSCA to the FDCA.

 But equally important is the need for communication and coordination on both the benefits and risks of nanotechnology.  And that extends beyond governmental regulation to businesses and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Aside from governmental action, various voluntary initiatives and partnerships have emerged.  A report out of the Woodrow Wilson  International Center for Scholars, “Voluntary Initiatives, Regulation, and Nanotechnology Oversight:  Charting a Path,” gives an overview of the initiatives – some publicly sponsored, some developed by business, and some representing joint business-NGO partnerships.  These initiatives have the common, though separate, goal of developing a strategy to oversee environmental, health, and safety risks raised by nanomaterials.  The report is available at http://www.nanotechproject.org/publications/archive/voluntary/

Three initiatives discussed in some detail in the report are:

 ●  “Nano Risk Framework,” jointly developed by duPont and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

 ●  “Responsible Nano Code,” sponsored by stakeholders from the United Kingdom

 ●  “Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program,” developed by EPA

 The report critically analyzes these specific initiatives – as well as others more generally – and concludes that they have a welcome role in the future of nanotechnology safety and health efforts.

The ideal world does not exist, of course.  But in this world, a strategy that incorporates the risks and benefits of these developing technologies and brings together as many varied interests as possible representing all affected parties, including the environment, is warranted.  It can provide needed checks and balances along the way.