The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is seeking $7M to establish a nanotechnology center and proposes to create a five year interagency agreement with the National Science Foundation and a learning center or university to house the center. The proposed "Center for Consumer Product Applications and Safety Implications of Nanotechnology" would be a consortium of scientists tasked with researching methods to quantify and characterize the presence, release and mechanisms of consumer exposure to nanomaterials from consumer products.
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular and supramolecular scale. While there is some controversy over the correct definition, nanomaterials generally are characterized by their tiny size, measured in nanometers. A nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter—approximately 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. While nano-sized particles exist in nature, there is growing concern over the increased use of and impacts from engineered nanomaterials present in many commercial, industrial and consumer products—most nanoscale materials are too small to be seen with the naked eye or even with conventional lab microscopes, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
According to the CPSC, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars issued a 2008 report evaluating the CPSC's role in nanotechnology. The report concluded that nanotechnology is used in all of the categories that CPSC regulates including toys and baby products, sports and fitness equipment, home improvement and garden equipment, clothing, appliances, computers and other electronic devices. The Wilson Center has established a Consumer Products Inventory identifying over 1,800 consumer products that contain nanomaterials.
Even though the CPSC is attempting to take a more proactive approach to nanotechnology, it is believed by many that the CPSC is behind the curve in analyzing the impacts of nanomaterials in consumer goods, particularly those associated with children's products. All agree the launch of the new nanotechnology center would be an important step for the CPSC assuming the necessary funding can be secured.
The CPSC has been active in developing agreements with other agencies to address issues related to nanotechnology and is a member of the National Nanotechnology Initiative—a group of 25 government agencies that have committed resources for the completion of nanotechnology research to assess environmental, health and safety concerns and related data gaps.