The novelty of nano and the regulatory challenge of newness

Christopher J. Preston, Maxim Y. Sheinin, Denyse J. Sproat, Vimal P. Swarup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


A great deal has been made of the question of whether nano-materials provide a unique set of ethical challenges. Equally important is the question of whether they provide a unique set of regulatory challenges. In the last 18 months, the US Environmental Protection Agency has begun the process of trying to meet the regulatory challenge of nano using the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976)(TSCA). In this central piece of legislation, 'newness' is a critical concept. Current EPA policy, we argue, does not adequately (or ethically) deal with the novelty of nano. This paper is an exploration of how to do a better job of accounting for nanomaterials as 'new.' We explore three alternative ways that nanomaterials might be made to fall under the TSCA regulatory umbrella. Since nanomaterials are of interest precisely because of the exciting new properties that emerge at the nano-scale, each of these three alternatives must meet what we call the 'novelty condition' and avoid what we call the 'central paradox' of existing regulatory policy. Failure to meet either of these conditions is a moral failure. We examine both the strengths and weaknesses of each alternative in order to illuminate the conceptual, practical, and moral challenges of novelty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-26
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Central paradox
  • Emergent properties
  • Nanomaterial
  • Newness
  • Novelty condition
  • Toxic Substances Control Act


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