SPECIAL FEATURE: EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES
Firms commercializing nanotechnology lack a clear procedural roadmap for navigating governmental environmental, health, and safety (EHS) standards, according to a new survey conducted by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (www.nanotechproject.org). Many firms also lack the necessary information to meet regulatory expectations.
The report is drawn from an online survey distributed to 180 managers from firms in the Northeast, and its results are consistent with surveys of companies in California, New York, and around the world, say the report’s authors John Lindberg and Margaret Quinn, professors at the University of Massachusetts–Lowell (Lowell, MA; www.uml.edu).
Lindberg and Quinn found that 80% of large firms were taking steps to manage nanotechnology EHS risks, compared with 33% of small and microcompanies, and 12% of firms at the start-up stage. “Many smaller firms recognize the need to address risks, but few have the resources to do so,” Lindberg says.
Quinn adds, “Firms are flying somewhat blind into the future and need a clear set of rules, a sense of the emerging regulatory landscape, and access to relevant research on risks in order to ensure both nanotechnology safety and profits.”
Another recent study describes a nanotechnology-related communication gap of a different kind: between scientists and the public. “Nanotechnology is starting to emerge on the policy agenda, but it’s not on [the public’s] radar,” says Dietram Scheufele of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (Madison, WI; www.wisc.edu), coauthor of the study.
“In the long run, this information disconnect could undermine public support for federal funding in certain areas of nanotechnology research,” says the survey’s coauthor, Elizabeth Corley of Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ; www.asu.edu).
“As citizens are faced with decisions about federal funding guidelines, one would hope that they could make these decisions with as much information about the science behind these proposals as possible,” Scheufele adds.
The survey’s findings were based on a national telephone survey of 363 American nanotechnology scientists and engineers, along with a telephone poll of average citizens. The authors found that scientists were both more optimistic and less concerned than the public about most nanotechnology-related risks.