Tag Archives: Environmental Protection Agency

US Nanotechnology Initiative for water sustainability

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 was World Water Day and to coincide with that event the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in collaboration with several other agencies announced a new ‘signature initiative’. From a March 24, 2016 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

As a part of the White House Water Summit held yesterday on World Water Day, the Federal agencies participating in the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) announced the launch of a Nanotechnology Signature Initiative (NSI), Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology: Nanoscale Solutions for a Global-Scale Challenge.

A March 23, 2016 NNI news release provides more information about why this initiative is important,

Access to clean water remains one of the world’s most pressing needs. As today’s White House Office of Science and Technology blog post explains, “the small size and exceptional properties of engineered nanomaterials are particularly promising for addressing the key technical challenges related to water quality and quantity.”

“One cannot find an issue more critical to human life and global security than clean, plentiful, and reliable water sources,” said Dr. Michael Meador, Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO). “Through the NSI mechanism, NNI member agencies will have an even greater ability to make meaningful strides toward this initiative’s thrust areas: increasing water availability, improving the efficiency of water delivery and use, and enabling next-generation water monitoring systems.”

A March 23, 2016 US White House blog posting by Lloyd Whitman and Lisa Friedersdorf describes the efforts in more detail (Note: A link has been removed),

The small size and exceptional properties of engineered nanomaterials are particularly promising for addressing the pressing technical challenges related to water quality and quantity. For example, the increased surface area—a cubic centimeter of nanoparticles has a surface area larger than a football field—and reactivity of nanometer-scale particles can be exploited to create catalysts for water purification that do not require rare or precious metals. And composites incorporating nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes might one day enable stronger, lighter, and more durable piping systems and components. Under this NSI, Federal agencies will coordinate and collaborate to more rapidly develop nanotechnology-enabled solutions in three main thrusts: [thrust 1] increasing water availability; [thrust 2] improving the efficiency of water delivery and use; and [thrust 3] enabling next-generation water monitoring systems.

A technical “white paper” released by the agencies this week highlights key technical challenges for each thrust, identifies key objectives to overcome those challenges, and notes areas of research and development where nanotechnology promises to provide the needed solutions. By shining a spotlight on these areas, the new NSI will increase Federal coordination and collaboration, including with public and private stakeholders, which is vital to making progress in these areas. The additional focus and associated collective efforts will advance stewardship of water resources to support the essential food, energy, security, and environment needs of all stakeholders.

We applaud the commitment of the Federal agencies who will participate in this effort—the Department of Commerce/National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food and Agriculture. As made clear at this week’s White House Water Summit, the world’s water systems are under tremendous stress, and new and emerging technologies will play a critical role in ensuring a sustainable water future.

The white paper (12 pp.) is titled: Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology: Nanoscale Solutions for a Global-Scale Challenge and describes the thrusts in more detail.

A March 22, 2016 US White House fact sheet lays out more details including funding,

Click here to learn more about all of the commitments and announcements being made today. They include:

  • Nearly $4 billion in private capital committed to investment in a broad range of water-infrastructure projects nationwide. This includes $1.5 billion from Ultra Capital to finance decentralized and scalable water-management solutions, and $500 million from Sustainable Water to develop water reclamation and reuse systems.
  • More than $1 billion from the private sector over the next decade to conduct research and development into new technologies. This includes $500 million from GE to fuel innovation, expertise, and global capabilities in advanced water, wastewater, and reuse technologies.
  • A Presidential Memorandum and supporting Action Plan on building national capabilities for long-term drought resilience in the United States, including by setting drought resilience policy goals, directing specific drought resilience activities to be completed by the end of the year, and permanently establishing the National Drought Resilience Partnership as an interagency task force responsible for coordinating drought-resilience, response, and recovery efforts.
  • Nearly $35 million this year in Federal grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support cutting-edge water science;
  • The release of a new National Water Model that will dramatically enhance the Nation’s river-forecasting capabilities by delivering forecasts for approximately 2.7 million locations, up from 4,000 locations today (a 700-fold increase in forecast density).

This seems promising and hopefully other countries will follow suit.

When is a nano-enabled product not nano-enabled?

Dietram Scheufele over at nanopublic has highlighted some research that David Berube (author of Nanohype—book and blog and professor at the University of North Carolina) and colleagues have published in Nanotechnology Law & Business (research article is behind a paywall). From Dietram’s July 3, 2010 blog posting (I’m unable to link to the specific post, so please scroll to or hunt for the date) about Berube’s research into the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies’ (PEN) Consumer Products Inventory (CPI),

The article takes a critical look at the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) consumer product inventory. The inventory has been used widely as a gauge of the number and types of nano consumer products currently on the U.S. market.

… [the authors concluded]

“that the CPI is not wholly reliable, and does not have sufficient validity to justify its prominence as evidence for claims associated with the pervasiveness of nanotechnology on the U.S. and global markets. In addition, we caution researchers to approach the CPI with care and due consideration because using the CPI as a rhetorical flourish to amplify concerns about market intrusions seems unjustified.”

In other words, use the CPI with care. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read Berube’s paper but I did go to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies website and looked at the criteria for inclusion in the CPI where PEN clearly states the inventory’s limitations,

Selection of products

Most products in this inventory satisfy three criteria:

1. They can be readily purchased by consumers, and

2. They are identified as nano-based by the manufacturer OR another source, and

3. The nano-based claims for the product appear reasonable.

In every instance, we have tried to identify specific products from specific producers. However, since nanotechnology has broad applications in a variety of fields, we have included a number of “generic” products that you can find in many places on the market such as computer processor chips. These are clearly labeled in the inventory. In some cases, companies offer several similar nanotechnology-based products and product lines. To reduce redundancy, we have just included a few samples in this inventory and hope that they will provide an initial baseline for understanding how nanotechnology is being commercialized.

There are probably some products in the inventory which producers allege are “nano,” but which may not be. We have made no attempt to verify manufacturer claims about the use of nanotechnology in these products, nor have we conducted any independent testing of the products. We have tried to avoid including products that clearly do not use nanotechnology, but some have undoubtedly slipped through.

Finally, some products are marked “Archive” to indicate that their availability can no longer be ascertained. When these products were added to the inventory we included live links, but since then the company may have discontinued the product, gone out of business, removed a self-identifying “nano” claim or simply changed their web address. In these instances we have attempted to locate a cached version of the product website using The Internet Archive.

I imagine that despite PEN’s clearly statements some folks have referenced it carelessly hence the concern about using it as hype from Berube and his colleagues.

The bit about manufacturers removing the ‘nano’ claim hit home since I did some research into washers that use nanosilver. A friend was disturbed by a recent article about them and I remembered that the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) had made a special designation for these types of washers. As it turns out, I got it 1/2 right. From the December 4, 2006 article by Susan Morissey in Chemical and Engineering News,

Silver—claimed to be nanoparticles—employed to kill bacteria in washing machines will now be regulated as a pesticide, EPA announced late last month. Currently, washers that generate silver ions are classified as devices and are not required to be registered with EPA.

The products at issue are Samsung washing machines that are advertised as using silver ions to kill 99.9% of odor-causing bacteria. This technology, called SilverCare, generates ions by applying current to two silver plates housed next to the machine’s tub. The ions are then directed into the tub during the wash cycle.

“EPA has determined that the Samsung silver ion-generating washing machine is subject to registration requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act,” according to an EPA statement. The agency decided to change the classification of the washer because it releases silver ions into the laundry “for the purpose of killing microbial pests,” the statement explains.

For its part, Samsung has pledged to comply with the change of policy. “Samsung has and will continue to work with EPA and state regulators regarding regulation of the silver washing machine,” the company says.

Several groups concerned about the environmental impact of nanoparticles of silver had asked EPA to reevaluate the way products containing such materials are regulated. For example, environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted in a letter to EPA that there are currently more than 40 products on the market in addition to Samsung’s washing machine that have made or implied claims of using nanoparticles of silver to kill bacteria.

NRDC praised EPA for taking what it called a “step in the right direction” by reclassifying nanosilver generated in a washer as a pesticide. The group also said this revised policy should lead to EPA reassessing other products that use nanoparticles of silver for their biocidal qualities.

A pesticide is not exactly a special designation but it certainly is unique as applied to clothes washers. The EPA announcement was made around the US Thanksgiving period (late November) according to a December 6, 2006 article by Scott E. Rickert in Industry Week. From Rickert’s article,

First, let’s backtrack and get the facts behind the headline. The trigger for the EPA decision was a Samsung washing machine. The “SilverWash” contains silver nanoparticles and claims that it helps to kill bacteria in clothes by releasing silver ions into the water during the wash.

Various U.S water authorities became concerned that discharged nanosilver might accumulate in the water system, particularly in wastewater treatment plants where beneficial bacteria are used to purify water of its toxins. This opinion means that nanosilver could be viewed as an environmental pesticide, requiring the product to be registered and tested under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. In the words of EPA spokesperson Jennifer Wood, “The release of silver ions in the washing machines is a pesticide, because it is a substance released into the laundry for the purpose of killing pests.”

So what does this really mean to nano-industry? Specifically, we’re not sure yet. It will take several months for the final rules to be detailed in the Federal Register. But some of the early responses have me scratching my head.

One company has removed any reference to nanosilver from their marketing information for antimicrobial devices. Apparently, in the short run, that excludes them from any ruling. As Jim Jones, director of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, said, “Unless you’re making a claim to kill a pest, you’re not a pesticide.”

This is not a simple ‘good guy vs. bad guy’ situation. Defining nanotechnology, nanoparticles, nanomaterials, etc. is a work in progress which makes attempts to regulate products and production in this area an even earlier work in progress. This situation is not confined to the US or to Canada. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be confined to any one country, which makes the situation applicable globally.

There is work being done and changes instituted, for example, the EPA has announced (from the PEN website),

At an April 29 presentation to the Pesticide Programs Dialogue Committee in Washington, D.C. EPA’s William Jordan announced a new working definition of nanomaterials as “an ingredient that contains particles that have been intentionally produced to have at least one dimension that measures between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers.” In addition EPA is preparing a Federal Register Announcement due out in June which announces a new interpretation of FIFRA/regulations and proposes a new policy stating that the presence of a nanoscale material in a pesticide product is reportable under FIFRA section 6(a)(2) and applies to already registered products as well as products pending registration.

As well, statements from the NanoBusiness Alliance suggest (in a previous posting on this blog) that there is some support within the business community for thoughtful regulation. As to what thoughtful means in this context, I think that’s something we, as a a society, need to work out.