As expected, Berkeley, California has become the first US city to implement local regulation of nanotechnologies. Unfortunately an atmosphere of ignorance surrounds the policy, with Maror Tom Bates being reported as saying “The EPA and the federal government have basically not looked at nano particles” – go tell that to Samsung!
While Berkeley may devote resources to adding another layer of bureaucracy to local businesses and send out inspectors in search of non compliant washing machines and automobile parts, it does seem rather futile. In the 1980’s a number of towns and cities passed resolutions declaring themselves nuclear free zones and put up signs to that effect. It is hard to emasure the effectiveness of these resolutions, but it is unlikely that the (then) Soviet Union would have decided to retarget its warheads on places where they were local bans were not in force, or that the Ministry of Defence would voluntarily declare whether it was transporting nuclear materials.
It all illustrates the maxim that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. In the same way that no distinction is made between nuclear weapons, nuclear energy or nuclear medicine (although smoke detectors containing americium-241 are fine), stories such as the Berkeley one raise the spectre of ‘nano’ acquiring the same negative connotations for the general public and their elected local representatives. While we see regular stories about how the public needs to be better educated about nanotech (while at the same time overall scientific literacy is falling) no one has figured out how this can be done. In the meantime, more manufacturers will follow the lead of the cosmetics industry and just drop the ‘nano.’