The Consumer Product Safety Commission and Nanotechnology

  • August 21, 2008
  • By E. Marla Felcher

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 U.S. 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?  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.

Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, visit the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies on