During the fall of 2007, many Americans faced a hazard in their products that had been banned for 30 years—lead. As millions of children’s toys were recalled, it became clear that government oversight had failed, and that the agency primarily responsible for the oversight of these toys— the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)—was stretched too thin from years of neglect, underfunding and the challenges posed by an increasingly global manufacturing system. It is against this background that we need to ask the question: Is CPSC adequately prepared to deal with nanotechnology, which is now found in more than 600 manufacturer-identified consumer products ranging from infant pacifiers to paints to appliances, to clothing?1 This report provides an assessment of CPSC’s “nano readiness” by examining the agency’s history, mandate, resources and tools. Though CPSC was once touted as “the most powerful federal regulatory agency ever created,” the findings of this analysis indicate that CPSC is poorly positioned to address the oversight challenges posed by nanotechnologies today—challenges that will expand in scope and complexity in the near future as nano-enabled consumer products enter the marketplace at an increasing rate.
Though CPSC’s oversight responsibilities extend to potentially half of all the nanotechnology products presently on the market, the agency has been starved of funds under the U.S. government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). The NNI is tasked with coordinating the U.S. government’s investment in nanotechnology research and development within 25 different federal agencies.2 Even under optimistic scenarios, CPSC may only receive $1 million to begin to address nanotechnology in the future, a paltry sum given the government’s $1.4 billion annual investment.
This report lays out a clear set of steps that the federal government must take to make sure that the public is protected from any potential risks associated with nanotechnology in consumer products. CPSC can play a key role in ensuring that we reap the benefits of our investments in nanotechnology, but to do so, the agency will need significant and immediate repair.