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February 2015

CPSC Seeks Funding for Nanotechnology Center

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy E. Lynn Grayson


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.

Chicago Regional Trees Initiative

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy E. Lynn Grayson


The Morton Arboretum and The Field Museum have partnered to launch the Chicago Regional Trees Initiative (CRTI) to study and understand Chicagoland's tree populations and identify opportunities for its collaborative management. The long term goal is to create healthier woodland environments distributed across seven counties including Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will.

Chicagoland's urban forests are threatened by invasive species such as buckthorn and honeysuckle. Trees that once dominated the landscape such as oak and hickory have become less abundant. These conditions make urban woodlands more vulnerable in facing challenges from climate change and destructive forces of parasites like the emerald ash borer beetle. As a result, many local communities face the possibility of nearly treeless streets and degraded forests.

The Field Museum's Science Action team is using a combination of satellite imagery, on-the-ground surveys and 3D elevation data to create interactive online maps to create a more accurate picture of the region's urban tree canopy and help identify potential problems. The CRTI will use this information to increase and diversify tree populations, combat invasive species and strengthen and update reporting and mapping tools.

Learn more about this CRTI at

U.S. EPA Seeks Assistance On Health Effects of Low Dose Exposure

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros


U.S. EPA recently reached out to the National Academies' National Research Council ("NRC") and requested that the NRC convene a scientific committee to evaluate whether there is a disconnect between the chemical testing strategies currently employed by U.S. EPA and adverse health effects that may result from low level exposure to chemicals in the environment. The U.S. EPA request comes on the heels of a 2014 NRC report that raised concerns as to whether U.S. EPA's testing strategies would detect health or ecological harms that may result from endocrine disrupters (which are chemicals that mimic, block or alter how hormones function in animals and people). According to U.S. EPA, "chemical testing and risk assessment strategies often don't address chronic low dose exposures, nor do they address people's total exposures to various chemicals that affect their bodies in similar ways and the multiple sources—diet, water, and air—of such chemicals."

Over the next year, the NRC anticipates convening a committee of toxicologists, molecular biologists, epidemiologists and other scientists that would be charged with preparing a report that analyzes whether U.S. EPA's current toxicity testing practices allow for adequate consideration of the low-dose adverse effects of chemical exposure. For further information on this NRC endeavor, please click here.

New U.S. Funding for Water Scarcity in Western States

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy E. Lynn Grayson


This month the U.S. agreed to provide $50 million for drought relief as California enters the fourth year of drought conditions. This funding will include $20 million for the Central Valley Water Project to address water transfers, drought monitoring for endangered species and diversifying water supplies.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency last January and signed a $687 million drought relief package. California residents cut monthly water use by 22% in December complying with state mandates to reduce water use by 20%.

Governor Brown has proposed spending $115 million for emergency drinking water and money for increased firefighting needs this year as well as part of his budget recommendations.

The California Office of Emergency Services reported last week in its bi-weekly drought brief that January 2015 finished up as one of the driest Januaries on historical record with very little meaningful precipitation throughout the state. At this time, California is only delivering 15% of the water requested from the state's vast reservoir system to farmers and local water agencies.

The ongoing drought conditions are having a variety of social, environmental and economic impacts throughout the state. The latest updates on drought conditions and state/local community actions can be viewed at California's Drought Information Clearinghouse via