Several speakers spoke of the need to educate the public and policy makers about nanotechnology’s actual risks and benefits. Dr. Hawk said acquiring public acceptance of nanotechnologies is one of the more pressing challenges to their translation into the clinic. He cited a survey of a Swiss population in which a variety of different unknowns were raised by consumers about foods or food packaging altered by nanotechnology (Siegrist et al., 2007). The questions these consumers raised included do nanoparticles migrate?, what are the downstream environmental impacts of nanoproducts?, and do we properly evaluate their safety?
“The overarching issue of social trust comes into play with acceptance both of the technology as well as appropriate regulatory oversight in the view of the public. Questions around safety play prominently in the minds of the public,” Dr. Hawk said.
Dr. Zhao noted that scientists know more about nanotoxicology than is conveyed to the public and policymakers, and even to people in the nanotechnology community. Many remain unaware of the progress being made in nanotoxicology and instead are likely to believe magnified risks of nanotechnology conveyed to them, he said. “We need to communicate with the public with respect to the safety and ethical concerns. The public is deeply concerned about the directions our society is moving in, and the technologies that are developed,” Dr. Zhao said.
He noted insufficient regulatory oversight of nanotechnologies will reinforce the fears that the public has about the safety of nanoproducts. “If you do not know it, you fear it,” he said, and suggested more
dialogue with the public to increase awareness and understanding of nanotechnologies, as well as more stringent regulation and oversight of these technologies. Dr. Kulinowski noted that the cosmetic products that FDA does not have premarket approval over are generating much more controversy because there’s a perception that “there’s no one minding the store.” Several nongovernmental organizations have written reports and filed petitions for FDA to take a stronger approach toward these products, she said. “I would argue that concerns over drugs and medical devices are less because there’s a perception that FDA has different, more rigorous process for screening these drugs,” Dr. Kulinowski said.
Dr. Gaspar stressed that it is not just the general public that needs to be educated about nanotechnologies, but also policymakers. “Before you have a problem with the general public, you have a problem with people that are making uninformed decisions,” he said.