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.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Onion: iPhone can "nano reassemble" itself

From The Onion (06/20/2007):

"Apple's New iPhone

Apple is set to release the much-hyped iPhone Friday, June 29. Here are some of its most highly anticipated features:

Nanotechnology enables it to reassemble itself when thrown against wall"

And, of course ...

"Reproduces through asexual budding"

Nano pork for Department of Defense has an interesting spin on the recent Department of Defense report on their Defense Nanotechnology Research and Development Program. As the Nanowerk graph below shows, DoD actually ended up with more money for nano research than they officially requested. The explanation? Congressional pork spending.


Ironically, even the DoD looks at these additions somewhat critically:

(Click here for the full report.)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

NPR Science Friday from Cornell Nanotech Facility

NPR's Science Friday this past week helped celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cornell University's Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility. Given that my first tenured appointment was at Cornell, I was happy to get an update on what's currently going on in nano in Ithaca, NY. But more importantly, the Cornell event featured a number of excellent talks and panels about nanotechnology and its societal implications.

Click here for the full program of the Cornell event, and here for a link to the archived show on

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Agenda building is dangerous

Getting the public's attention on issues like global warming and the environment is not easy. In fact, agenda building can be an outright dangerous business. That's what Greenpeace activists learned when they tried to outrun German police boats during the G8 summit Germany in order to deliver a petition to the leaders of the world's richest nations, urging action on global warming.

Given the apparent lack of public attention to the negotiations in Heiligendamm, Greenpeace decided to go back to its roots and create some free media coverage by entering the restricted space around the summit with speedboats carrying "G8: Act Now!" banners. And the strategy worked.

In recent years, of course, Greenpeace had relied more and more on their extensive media contacts and fundraising machine rather than the often illegal and highly newsworthy run-ins with corporations and police that had established Greenpeae as one of the leading environmental organizations in the 1970s and 1980s.

But Greenpeace apparently decided that it would take more drastic measures again to get public attention away from TB travelers, incarcerated hotel heiresses, and the war in Iraq.

German police unfortunately refused to play along and arrested the protesters and confiscated their boats. But in the process they also produced spectacular and highly newsworthy crashes with two of the Greenpeace boats that ended up catapulting this issue into most of the evening news shows in Europe.

Here is Greenpeace's own description of what happened:
The Greenpeace speedboat action finished at 12pm this afternoon 24 Greenpeace activists came in 11 boats to the waters around the G8 summit, with the message "G8: Act Now!". In total 11 boats were involved, 5 inflatables, 2 inflatable catamarans and 2 six- metre long inflatables.

6 people were injured when they were knocked into the water by the police boat, they have bruises all over their bodies. One activist is being kept in hospital for further observation.


The activists tried to deliver a petition calling for clear commitments on climate change, which governments have so far failed to agree at this Summit.

Monday, June 04, 2007

FDA creates new "Risk Communication Advisory Committee"

It appears that the FDA is one of the first Federal agencies to systematically turn to experts in media, marketing, and communication in order to successfully communicate with the broader public. Here's today's announcement of the creation of an FDA Risk Communication Advisory Committee:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced a new advisory committee designed to counsel the agency on how to strengthen the communication of risks and benefits of FDA-regulated products to the public.

The Risk Communication Advisory Committee will;

  • help FDA better understand the communication needs and priorities of the general public;
  • advise FDA on the development of strategic plans to communicate product risks and benefits; and
  • make recommendations to FDA on what current research suggests about crafting risk and benefit messages, as well as how to most effectively communicate specific product information to vulnerable audiences.

“Communicating the risks and benefits associated with FDA-regulated products is essential to help consumers and health care professionals make informed decisions,” said Randall Lutter, Ph.D., FDA’s acting deputy commissioner for policy. “The Risk Communication Advisory Committee will bring together a broad range of experts and views to help improve FDA’s communication of the science-based information about product risks and benefits that the public needs to make informed decisions.” [...]

Experts will include authorities knowledgeable in the fields of risk communication, social marketing, health literacy, cultural competency, journalism, bioethics, and other relevant behavioral and social sciences.

(Here's a copy of the full release.)