Nanofunding, nano-effort

Today's Washington Post reports that EPA is awarding $4 million in grants to study the health and environmental effects of nanomaterials, the tinier than tiny materials that form the basis of nanotechnology. The nanomaterials pose serious risks: Measuring three-billionths of an inch or less, they are small enough to enter the lungs and perhaps even be absorbed through the skin. Experiments in animals have shown that once in the body, they can travel to the brain and other organs. So, the EPA's grants mean that it's doing enough, right? Scott Walsh, a project manager at Washington-based Environmental Defense, called the EPA grants "a great start" but decried the federal government's failure to invest more in the effort. "Government is not yet investing enough to ensure that the risks are discovered in the laboratory instead of in our bodies, our back yards and our workplaces," Walsh said. "We're probably $90 million shy of what we need to be spending to do the job right...." [C]ompared to the federal investment in nanotech's "applications," the investment in the field's "implications" remains far too small, said Hope Shand, research director for ETC Group, an Ottawa-based research and advocacy organization that has called for a moratorium on commercializing nanotech products until governments adopt stricter oversight programs. "Hundreds of nano products are on the market today, and there is no regulatory oversight to ensure that new manufactured nanomaterials are safe for human health and the environment," Shand said. "The U.S. government is spending nearly a billion dollars per year to promote nanotech. In comparison, EPA's new funding is like a nanodrop in the bucket." --Rick Weiss, "EPA Backs Nanomaterial Safety Research: Activists Say $4 Million is Far Too Little for Studies," Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2004, at A23.
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