Thursday, June 21, 2007

Environmental Defense / DuPont collaboration on nanorisks goes live

Environmental Defense and DuPont will officially launch their Nanorisk Framework today. This collaboration between an advocacy group and a corporate player has been discussed for a while now in nano circles as an interesting new model for managing potential emerging health and safety risks (see posting from may 21, 2006).
"The Framework is information-driven; it does not implicitly assume the risk or safety of any material. Where there is little or no information to guide decisions on the potential for a particular hazard or exposure, the Framework suggests using “reasonable worst-case assumptions” — or, alternatively, using comparisons to other materials or processes that have been better characterized — along with management practices appropriate to those options. The Framework is also designed to encourage replacing assumptions with real information, especially as a product nears commercial launch, and refining management practices accordingly."

(Click here for a complete Executive Summary.)

The complete framework will be presented via webcast today, July 21, at 11:00 a.m. EST. More details on the Framework are also available at
"Environmental Defense Director of Corporate Partnerships Gwen Ruta and DuPont Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer Linda Fisher will discuss the impetus for forming this partnership and the rationale for developing a guidance document for responsible use of engineered nanoscale materials. They will also discuss how this framework adds to the growing public discourse on nanotechnology overall."

(Click here for the complete press release.)

Step 4 of the framework deals with risk management, including risk communication. Among the recommended questions:
■ Is hazard and safe-handling information shared with those who have a need to know?
■ Are procedures communicated to customers in order to inform them on how to safely use, dispose of, or recycle the product and manage environmental, health, and
safety risks?
■ Do labels and other safety-information communications indicate the extent of harm that could result from reasonably foreseeable misuse?
■ Does packaging comply with transportation and risk regulations?
■ Are workers and customers throughout the lifecycle adequately informed and protected?

(Click here for a copy of the complete Framework.)

The risk communication section, of course, is left fairly vague and questions about what it means for the public to be "adequately informed" or how we can effectively reach different types of consumers and address their specific concerns will have to be answered by communication professionals down the road.

What's interesting is that a European equivalent of the risk framework model is already in existence (see posting from March 3, 2007). And it focuses much more explicitly on the consumer side of things. Back in March, the Innovationsgesellschaft St. Gallen, a technology consultancy firm in Switzerland, just began to offer CENARIOS®, a risk management and monitoring system for nanotechnology, to their clients. Here's an excerpt from their product description:
"CENARIOS® includes a criteria index based on TÜV standards with requirements towards employees, risk assessment and risk management (risk communication and issues management). The certificate for CENARIOS® is given by the certification authority of TÜV SÜD according their standards and it is verified periodically. The certification process ensures that internal communication is optimised and that the risk management system is continuously improved."
In other words, CENARIOS is a full-service risk assessment and management tool. It is based on three steps, two of which mostly deal with the ethical, legal, and social (ELSI) aspects nanotechnology. In addition to scientific risk assessment of specific products, the CENARIOS product description focuses heavily on assessments of the information environment, including media coverage and public opinion climates, and on communication-based crisis management and prevention.