materials we need to understand how they interact with the environment once they are released.
A number of times during the workshop, the need for a risk assessment framework was discussed. The discussion highlighted the need for bold leadership in this area, such as the effort made by the federal government when it established the National Nanotechnology Initiative.
Nanotechnology needs to have a regulatory framework similar to the one that was developed in the early days of biotechnology in the United States—where regulatory agencies got together to determine how existing laws and authorities could be used to fill the regulatory gaps for these new technologies. There is a need for the federal government to establish such a framework. Since biotechnology went on the market, many organizations have assessed hazards after the fact. With nanotechnology, the process of external scientific advice could occur earlier and provide an opportunity to steer the process more wisely before the fact. Other creative approaches, such as stakeholder dialogues convened by mutual parties, can also be helpful.
Additionally, the government needs a process to steer research and development, taking into account uses, life cycle issues (manufacture through disposal), and environmental fate and transport of these materials. One model for research coordination is the Global Climate Research Initiative. In the 1980s, a budget was established for competitive use by agencies if they were willing to come to the table with projects that would meet the goals of a comprehensively assessing climate change. It makes a difference to have that kind of leadership coming from the top.
It is important for government to make the right decisions so there is honest and straightforward communication. Bad decisions lead to bad risk communication. No matter how hard one tries, there is nothing that substitutes for making the right decisions and preventing the adverse events.
There is a need for international leadership as well. Any adverse event happening with nanotechnology anywhere in the world is going to reflect negatively on it everywhere in the world. Thus, early engagement of the global community and having leadership on all issues, including establishing a common language for identifying these substances is critical.