So far, nanotech has been left blessingly unregulated by the feds. Nanotech has been responsible for the great advances in computer technology. It offers the possibility of cheap genome sequencing. And it generates new, better materials for everyday uses.
But now, states and locals are stepping in and beginning to regulate nanomaterials. The main concern is apparently toxicity. But nanomaterials are very safe and scientists are already examining their toxicity. Nothing is terribly unique about nanomaterials; we are already bombarded with objects on the same size scale. Given that no one has ever been harmed by nanomaterials, regulation seems a bit premature.
Further – and this is a lesson that bears repeating in other contexts – one has to keep in mind the potential harm done by slowing or stopping nanotech research. If nanomaterials will substantially improve medicine, then the costs of delay may be many lives. Even if the only victim is better sunscreen, regulations may put lives at risk. Over 10,000 preventable deaths in the US occur every year because of skin cancer. State and local regulators need to start looking at the unintended consequences of their actions before leaping ahead.