Environmental Management

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 426–443 | Cite as

Bottom-Up Risk Regulation? How Nanotechnology Risk Knowledge Gaps Challenge Federal and State Environmental Agencies

  • Maria C. Powell
  • Martin P.A. Griffin
  • Stephanie Tai


Nanotechnologies have been called the “Next Industrial Revolution.” At the same time, scientists are raising concerns about the potential health and environmental risks related to the nano-sized materials used in nanotechnologies. Analyses suggest that current U.S. federal regulatory structures are not likely to adequately address these risks in a proactive manner. Given these trends, the premise of this paper is that state and local-level agencies will likely deal with many “end-of-pipe” issues as nanomaterials enter environmental media without prior toxicity testing, federal standards, or emissions controls. In this paper we (1) briefly describe potential environmental risks and benefits related to emerging nanotechnologies; (2) outline the capacities of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act to address potential nanotechnology risks, and how risk data gaps challenge these regulations; (3) outline some of the key data gaps that challenge state-level regulatory capacities to address nanotechnologies’ potential risks, using Wisconsin as a case study; and (4) discuss advantages and disadvantages of state versus federal approaches to nanotechnology risk regulation. In summary, we suggest some ways government agencies can be better prepared to address nanotechnology risk knowledge gaps and risk management.


Nanotechnology Risk assessment Government regulation Data gaps 



Dr. Maria Powell’s research is supported by NSF Grant DMRO425880. The authors would also like to thank the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the WDNR team that contributed to the 2006 white paper, “Nanotechnology and Natural Resources: Preparing the Department for the Present and the Future.” Martin Griffin is the lead author of this paper, and team members are Gary Edelstein, Jeff Myers, Candy Schrank, Laurel Sukup, and Gretchen Wheat.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria C. Powell
    • 1
  • Martin P.A. Griffin
    • 2
  • Stephanie Tai
    • 3
  1. 1.Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, Nelson Institute for Environmental StudiesUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Natural ResourcesMadisonUSA
  3. 3.UW-Madison Law SchoolMadisonUSA

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