Nanotechnology is the latest in a growing list of emerging technologies that includes nuclear technologies, genetics, reproductive biology, biotechnology, information technology, robotics, communication technologies, surveillance technologies, synthetic biology, and neuroscience. As was the case for many of the technologies that came before, a key question facing nanotechnology is what type of regulatory oversight is appropriate for this emerging technology. As two of us wrote several years ago, the question facing nanotechnology is not whether it will be regulated, but when and how.
Yet, appropriate regulation of nanotechnology will be challenging. The term “nanotechnology” incorporates a broad, diverse range of materials, technologies, and products, with an even greater spectrum of potential risks and benefits. This technology slashes across the jurisdiction of many existing regulatory statutes and regulatory agencies, and does so across the globe. Nanotechnology is developing at an enormously rapid rate, perhaps surpassing the capability of any potential regulatory framework to keep pace. Finally, the risks of nanotechnology remain largely unknown, both because of the multitude of variations in the technology and because of the limited applicability of traditional toxicological approaches such as structure-activity relationship (SAR) to nanotechnology products.