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Watchdog to regulate nano technology soon

Spurred in part by the debate over Bt brinjal, and in part by the controversy raised abroad by certain products based on nanotechnology, the government is planning to set up a regulatory board in March that will examine all new nanotechnology devices before they are commercially marketed. Anika Gupta examines...

india Updated: Feb 23, 2010 00:47 IST
Anika Gupta

Spurred in part by the debate over Bt brinjal, and in part by the controversy raised abroad by certain products based on nanotechnology, the government is planning to set up a regulatory board in March that will examine all new nanotechnology devices before they are commercially marketed.

“The reason we’ve had problems with Bt brinjal is that we don’t have a strong regulatory body,” C. R. N. Rao, scientific adviser to the prime minister, told HT. “Nanotechnology is being used for medicine and health. We must be sure it is used safely.”

“The regulatory board will have experts from all different fields, including medicine and agriculture,” he added.

Nano technology, the study of materials on a sub-microscopic scale, is one of the hottest trends in global science.

The Indian government has already allocated a special Rs 1,000 crore fund for nanotech research. Nano particles are more than 1,000 times smaller than a human hair.

They have huge potential in medicine, agriculture and lifestyle products.

Indian scientists are working on nanosilver-covered clothes that will never need to be washed, artificial muscles made from textile nanofibres, and ultra-tiny nanotubes that could deliver medicines internally.

But nano-based products have also created controversy. When Samsung released a “Nano Silver” washing machine in the US, environmental groups claimed that the silver-laced wastewater could damage the earth.

The US’ Environmental Protection Agency temporarily banned the machine, and is in the midst of drafting regulations specifically for nanotechnology.

A version of that machine, Samsung’s Nano Silver washer, is available in India. There are no curbs on its purchase and use.

Regulation will present its own set of challenges.

“We don’t have standards for judging what makes a product dangerous,” said T. N. Rao, director of the Centre for Nanomaterials at ARCI, a Hyderabad-based lab. “On what basis will they regulate?”