Archive for December, 2011

prod liab imageIt had to happen sooner or later.  And it’s happening now.  A coalition of nonprofit consumer safety and environmental groups brought an action on December 21 in federal district court in California against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The action seeks an order for declaratory and injunctive relief under the Administrative Procedure Act to require the FDA to respond to a petition filed with the FDA in 2006 which sought action by the agency to assure the safety of the public exposed to nanomaterials, particularly sunscreen products.  The requested relief is detailed on pages 3-4 of the petition.  The lawsuit is International Center for Technology Assessment v. Hamburg (N.D. Calif., CV 11-6592).

The coalition includes the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) as lead plaintiff for Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, the Center for Environmental Health, the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy, and several other groups.

Among other things, the petition detailed the status of research on and knowledge of the risks of nanomaterials, both relating to consumer products and the environment.  This information included studies that have indicated some of the ways that engineered nanoparticles may harm living cells through new channels of exposure.  Moreover, in 2007, the FDA’s own Nanotechnology Task Force issued a report recommending that the FDA issue guidance to manufacturers using nanomaterials and take steps to improve scientific knowledge of nanotechnology.

In the weeks to come, we will be anticipating the response from the FDA, which may very well insist that it has undertaken the efforts sought by the petitioners.  There are several other legal strategies that the FDA could employ, including claiming the lack of legal authority to put into place some or all of the relief sought in the petition or the need for interagency coordination.

The greatest significance of this lawsuit is that it puts nanotechnology into the courts.  This may be the first time, but it certainly won’t be the last time.

The 80-page petition is available at

The 2007 Nanotechnology Task Force report is available at

imagesThe National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued what is being touted as the world’s first reference material for single-wall carbon nanotube soot.  In its statement, NIST calls single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNT) “perhaps the archetype of all nanoscale materials.”  The promise of SWCNT in industrial use is great (NIST chemical engineer Jeffrey Fagan stated that “full development of these materials should enable lighter, stronger materials, as well as improve many technologies from sensors to electronics and batteries”).  But as with most things, there’s a catch.

Production of SWCNT involves a complex process that is known for inconsistent quality, variability from batch to batch, and significant resulting impurities.  NIST has sought to provide the first standardized guidelines – both chemical and metric – to the production of nanotubes, through the publication of its Standard Reference Material SRM 2483 – Single-Wall Carbon Nanotubes (Raw Soot) on December 20, 2011.  The purpose of the SRM is to provide industrial developers and producers with a means to evaluate chemical and instrumental methods of analysis of carbon nanotubes with the goal of improving quality and consistency across the board.

Of special interest to me is the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for SWCNT raw soot, which was simultaneously issued by NIST.  The MSDS reveals that little is known about the potential hazards of this substance in the workplace setting.  The MSDS contains the following statement regarding single-wall carbon nanotubes raw soot:

“According to NIOSH, currently there are no studies reported in the literature of adverse health effects in workers producing or using carbon nanotubes or carbon nanofibers.  The concern about worker exposure to these materials arises from results of animal studies.  Several studies in rodents have shown an equal or greater potency of carbon nanotubes compared to other inhaled particles known to be hazardous to exposed workers (ultrafine carbon black, crystalline silica, and asbestos) in causing adverse lung effects including pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis.”

Did the word “asbestos” jump off the page?  And just because this substance is not listed as a potential carcinogen in the National Toxicology Program (NTP) Report on Carcinogens, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monographs, or by OSHA does not mean that it doesn’t pose a significant health risk to workers.  Pulmonary fibrosis, in the form of asbestosis and silicosis, has been a major public health problem for decades and a legal problem of immeasurable proportions.

Furthermore, the MSDS states, under Toxicology Information, that “[a]nimal in vitro cell studies have shown that SWCNT can cause genotoxicity and abnormal chromosome number due to interference with mitosis.”  But the research has not yet demonstrated any effects in the animals other than the observed impact, perhaps because the technology is so new and the research in its infancy.

Under Ecotoxicity Data, the MSDS states, “No data available.”

Clearly, there is an urgent need for more study of the potential health hazards of SWCNT, both acute and chronic.  So while the Standard Reference Material is a giant step toward consistency of standards, the MSDS reveals that it is only a baby step in the larger scheme of things.  Much research needs to be done on the impact of these new technologies on workers and ultimately on consumers and the environment.

The NIST statement, with image, is available at

The Standard Reference Material is available at

The MSDS, with sources, is available through a link from the Standard Reference Material page immediately above.

ef_2009_345796_1 US CapitolFor those of you who are following this blog, I’ll apologize for letting nearly two months slip away since the previous post.  The reason has to do with my co-blogger, Eric Laury.  After passing both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey bar exams, Eric took a job in a law firm in Denver, which means he is now studying for the Colorado bar exam.  I have every reason to believe that Eric will resume writing for this blog after things settled down for him, but likely as an occasional blogger.  I congratulate him on his success and look forward to our continued collaboration.

Among this week’s news in the world of nanotechnology law is word that the U.S. government is in the grip of regulatory confusion.  If you’ve been reading this blog, that’s nothing new, but there now seems to be official consensus that there is no consensus.

This consensus on non-consensus was a major focus of a workshop in Washington on December 13 and 14 organized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  One of the themes of the workshop came from several participants, including EPA which noted that there is no agreement internationally on either toxicity testing protocols or the proper methodology for measuring release of nanoparticles into the environment.  A similar theme was pressed by the CPSC.  The chair of the Nanotechnology Panel of the American Chemistry Council echoed the concerns of the governmental agencies, emphasizing that industry needs to have clear rules to develop safe products.

Moreover, the participants expressed concern for the disconnect between the various sectors – government, business, and consumers – over the need for and type of regulation for the products of nanotechnology.

All well and good.  But this workshop has that déjà vu feeling.  Haven’t we been hearing this over and over for some time now?  It also has a certain circular logic to it, which goes something like this:  “Before we regulate, we need to know what the hazards are and what to regulate, but if we can’t agree on how to assess the hazards and what needs to be regulated, then we can’t regulate.”

 Think about it.

 The following article reported the events of the workshop:

Pat Rizzuto, Regulators Say They Lack Consensus-Based Standards for Key Aspects of Nanomaterials, 241 Daily Envt’l Rep. (BNA) A-8 (Dec. 15, 2011) (by subscription only)