Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 1477–1488 | Cite as

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

Special focus: Governance of Nanobiotechnology


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.


Expert judgment Nanotechnology risks Regulation of nanotechnology Risk ranking Voluntary regulation Governance 



This article is based on the study supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Cooperative Agreement No. SES 0531184 to the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the NSF and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Cooperative Agreement No. EF 0830117 to the UC Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology, in Los Angeles. Preparation of this article was also supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) grant #0608791, “NIRT: Evaluating Oversight Models for Active Nanostructures and Nanosystems: Learning from Past Technologies in a Societal Context” (Principle Investigator: S.M. Wolf; Co-PIs: E. Kokkoli, J. Kuzma, J. Paradise, and G. Ramachandran). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF or EPA. This study has not been subjected to EPA review, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The authors would also like to gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) through an Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Resources, Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Liu Institute for Global IssuesUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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