The Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) has announced a pilot program to examine the differences between risk assessment practices for nanomaterials in both countries with the goal of identifying and sharing the best practices.  The RCC was initiated in 2011 by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper to coordinate the risk assessment practices of the two countries on a scale broader than nanotechnology.  Within the RCC, the Nanotechnology Working Group has focused specifically on looking into the potential risks of nanomaterials.

The Nanotechnology Work Plan generated by the RCC Nanotechnology Working Group states the following as the desirable outcome of the Group’s efforts:

“Share information and develop common approaches [between the two countries], to the extent possible, on foundational regulatory elements, including criteria for determining characteristics of concern/no concern, information gathering, approaches to risk assessment and management, etc.  Develop joint initiatives to align regulatory approaches in specific areas such that consistency exists for consumers and industry in Canada and the US.”

The stated purpose of the common approaches would be to “help ensure consistency for industry and consumers in both countries.”

The Working Group sees its ultimate task as the development of “a model framework providing key elements and approaches to regulating products and applications of emerging technologies with respect to potential impacts on the environment, human health, food or agriculture.”

All quite worthy goals.  But as with so many efforts to understand the potential health and environmental risks of nanomaterials, this effort has its pluses and minuses.

The best features of the RCC initiative are international governmental cooperation and sharing of expertise and experience.  But some of the same frustrations evident in the nanotechnology risk assessment and regulatory arena still exist.  For example, we are still looking at a protracted process of risk assessment, followed by a protracted process of developing regulations.  As part of that, the group must still agree upon a taxonomy and risk assessment goals and specific procedures.  And most certainly there will be fragmentation and duplication of efforts between North America and the rest of the world.

It’s still a good idea.  But let’s not expect too much too soon.

The Nanotechnology Work Plan is available at