Question of the Week #6


We will be putting up a consumer product safety question every week. The answers will be forthcoming the following week along with a new question posed. Check back frequently and let us know if you have a question.

We recently posed Question #5: Does the CPSC regulate products that contain nanotechnology?

Response: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was created in 1973, well before there was serious consideration on the use of nanotechnology in consumer products. The agency, however, has jurisdiction to regulate most all “consumer products,” defined to mean:

any article, or component part thereof, produced or distributed (i) for sale to a consumer for use in or around a permanent or temporary household or residence, a school, in recreation, or otherwise, or (ii) for the personal use, consumption or enjoyment of a consumer in or around a permanent or temporary household or residence, a school, in recreation, or otherwise….

So, what exactly is nanotechnology and nanomaterials?

Nanotechnology is the process that directly manipulates matter at the atomic level to fabricate new molecules and materials. Nanomaterials are defined as materials/particles that range from 1 to 100 nanometers in length. The use of nanotechnology and nanomaterials is intriguing because the ability to make tiny molecular changes may allow for significant improvements in the performance and durability of materials and products. However, while we may achieve better and more effective products with nanotechnology, there is significant uncertainty as to whether nanomaterials cause any adverse consequences to the environment or to human health and safety.

According to the CPSC, nanomaterials represent a wide range of compounds that may vary significantly in their structure, physical and chemical properties, and potentially in their behavior in the environment and in the human body. The CPSC staff has not yet taken a position on exposure to or the health effects that may result from exposure to nanomaterials in consumer products. The agency is currently working with other federal agencies, such as the EPA, OSHA, the Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET) and the Nanotechnology Environmental Health Issues (NEHI) to promote the sharing of data and best available practices for regulation of nanomaterials.

A recent study by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Pew Charitable Trusts concluded that the CPSC is ill-prepared for regulation of nanotechnology in consumer products. The study recommended that the CPSC build a nanotechnology knowledge base and expertise. It also encouraged companies and the agency to work cooperatively to allow for review of product research studies, risk assessments and safety data. The study called for the CPSC to convene a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) to evaluate the health and safety risks associated with nanoproducts currently on the market that are intended for use by children. It also appealed to industry to begin work on voluntary safety standards for the most prevalent nanoproducts currently on the market and those that are intended for use by children. Last, the study urged Congress to amend the Consumer Product Safety Act to give CPSC the authority to require manufacturers to identify any nanomaterials in their products.

A copy of the study can be found here:

CPSC and Nanotechnology study

It is particularly noted that the laws that govern CPSC oversight of consumer products do not provide for “pre-market” approval from the agency before a product is distributed in commerce. This presents an interesting question of regulation. Should companies be required to prove the safety of their products that incorporate nanotechnology and nanomaterials prior to commercialization? We already have such a system for EPA’s pre-market review of “new” chemicals under the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Should a similar program be implemented for nanomaterials? These questions are under significant debate in a large number of forums.

The CPSC’s regulation of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in consumer products is an evolving process. The agency has current authority to regulate nanomaterials, but the agency’s regulatory paradigm responds to acute risks and otherwise relies on corporate self-reporting. This may be ineffectual in assessing chronic or long term safety concerns relating to nanomaterials in consumer products. A new regulatory model may be needed.

We expect to see a more debate on nanotechnology regulation in the coming year, both in the halls of science and at the legislature. As the old adage goes, you can’t stop progress and innovation. The question is can you keep it safe?

Now for this weeks new Question of the Week #6: I have read about the safety limits for lead and phthalates under the CPSIA. I also understand the several states have adopted different lead and phthalate standards. What standards apply to my products?

Check back with us for our response. Also, let us know what you think of our blog and questions you may have about consumer product safety.

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