Lingering Governance Challenges for Engineered Nanomaterials

B. Trump, I. Linkov
US Army Corps of Engineers,
United States

Keywords: nanotechnology, governance, risk assessment, uncertainty


Despite significant advances in scientific knowledge regarding the hazards and exposure pathways of engineered nanomaterials, significant challenges exist relative to their governance. Though the existing risk-based paradigm has been essential for assessment of many chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear technologies, a complementary approach may be warranted for the early-stage assessment and management challenges of high uncertainty technologies and their resultant products. Such an approach, grounded in principles of institutionally-relevant risk governance, would facilitate both the analysis and use of existing risk data as well as prioritize and address remaining gaps in risk knowledge. A significant challenge includes the need to ensure that such approaches are consistent with statutory requirements for pertinent regulators and risk assessors, and fulfill political and cultural values for communities ranging from nanomaterial researchers and developers to the commercial public (a breakdown of the various drivers of governance is illustrated below in Figure 1). Scholarly literature notes that such an approach should integrates quantitative experimental information alongside qualitative expert insight to characterize and balance the risks, benefits, costs, and societal implications of emerging technologies (Figure 2). Specific emphasis is placed upon how to address technological uncertainty, where an emerging technology risk governance process should be driven by a multi-stakeholder effort, incorporate various disparate sources of information, review various endpoints and outcomes, and comparatively assess emerging technology performance against existing conventional products in a given application area. At least in the early stages of development when quantitative data for risk assessment remains incomplete or limited, such an approach can be valuable for policymakers and decision makers to evaluate the impact that engineered nanomaterials may have upon human and environmental health.