Governance implications of nanomaterials companies’ inconsistent risk perceptions and safety practices
Current research on the nanotechnology industry indicates its downstream expansion at a rapid pace, while toxicological research and best practices for environmental health and safety are still being developed. Companies that use and/or produce engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) have enormous potential to influence safe-handling practices for ENMs across the product life cycle. Knowledge of both industry practices and leaders’ perceptions of risk is vital for understanding how companies will act to control potential environmental and health risks. This article reports results from a new international survey of nanomaterials companies in 14 countries. In this survey, company participants reported relatively high levels of uncertainty and/or perceived risk with regard to ENMs. However, these perspectives were not accompanied by expected risk-avoidant practices or preferences for regulatory oversight. A majority of companies indicated “lack of information” as a significant impediment to implementing nano-specific safety practices, but they also reported practices that were inconsistent with widely available guidance. Additionally, in the absence of safe-handling regulations, companies reported nano-specific health and safety programs that were narrow in scope. Taken together, these findings indicate that health and safety guidance is not reaching industry. While industry leaders’ reluctance toward regulation might be expected, their own reported unsafe practices and recognition of possible risks suggest a more top-down approach from regulators is needed to protect workers and the environment.