UC, Lab Opt Out of Nanoparticle Report

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday June 05, 2007

Berkeley was in the national headlines for weeks after the City Council approved a policy in December 2006 that requires local businesses to report to the city on their use of nanotechnology materials as well as guidelines for safety procedures and disposal of the substances.  

By the June 1 reporting date the only business following the formal reporting procedure was Bayer Laboratories, according to Toxics Manager Nabil Al-Hadithy. The other two local users of the technology, UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) responded, but did not include the specific data required by the ordinance. 

“I am especially disappointed because LBLN has been engaged in the process [of writing the reporting procedures] for two years and has failed to implement it,” Al-Hadithy said. 

The policy requires companies working with engineered nanoparticles—materials one of whose axes is 100 nanometers or less (a nanometer is one-trillionth of a meter)—to submit a report disclosing the toxicology of the nanoparticles used and “how the facility will safely handle, monitor, contain, dispose, track inventory, prevent releases and mitigate such materials,” says the city ordinance. 

The lab’s response was written by Howard K. Hatayama, of LBNL’s Environment, Health and Safety Division. Hatayama did not return a call for comment from the Daily Planet.  

Writing the city on May 31, Hatayama said the wide range of nano materials render the characterization of toxicity of each “extremely challenging.” However, without going into detail, he underscored that the lab follows safety procedures: “LBNL has procedures that take into account the toxicity, process and controls during evaluation of the work performed, in consultation with health and safety specialists as necessary.”  

The university response noted its independence from city regulation. “The university, as a state entity, is exempt from the city of Berkeley’s manufactured nanoscale material disclosure ordinance,” says a May 31 letter written by Mark Freiberg, UC Berkeley’s hazardous materials manager. Freiberg was out of town and unavailable for comment. His letter to the city was forwarded by the university’s Public Information Office. 

Freiberg writes, in general, about the university’s safety precautions: “Nanoscale materials created by UC Berkeley researchers are to be handled in accordance with the safe laboratory practices established in our laboratory Chemical Hygiene Plans…. Our researchers are also studying and helping better define and characterize the potential impacts manufactured nanoscale materials may have on human health and the environment….” 

Making sure that there is training in safety procedures in handling the nanoparticles is an important aspect of the reporting, Al-Hadithy said. The university’s letter says training “may be provided as part of the training provided on the laboratory’s Chemical Hygiene Plan.” 

Al-Hadithy noted that state and federal standards for disposal of the particles have not been developed. “They can be dumped in a sink or in a garbage can,” he said, noting that he had hoped that LBNL’s response would have helped in the development of such standards.