, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 1477-1488
Date: 30 Jan 2011

Horses for courses: risk information and decision making in the regulation of nanomaterials

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Despite the widespread commercial use of nanomaterials, regulators currently have a limited ability to characterize and manage risks. There is a paucity of data available on the current production and use of nanomaterials and extreme scientific uncertainty on most aspects of the risk assessment “causal chain.” Regulatory decisions will need to be made in the near-term in the absence formal quantitative risk assessments. The article draws on examples from three different regulatory contexts—baseline data monitoring efforts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Toxic Substances Control, prioritization of risk information in the context of environmental releases, and mitigation of occupational risks—to argue for the use of decision-analytic tools in lieu of formal risk assessment to help regulatory bodies. We advocate a “horses for courses” approach whereby existing analytical tools (such as risk ranking, multi-criteria decision analysis, and “control banding” approaches) might be adapted to regulators’ goals in particular decision contexts. While efforts to build new and modify existing tools are underway, they need greater support from funding and regulatory agencies because innovative approaches are needed for the “extreme” uncertainty problems that nanomaterials pose.