The Berkeley City Council has approved the nation's only local nanotechnology regulations, another first for the city already famous for taking the lead in banning Styrofoam containers, desegregating public schools and divesting public funds from South Africa.
The council on Tuesday decided to amend its hazardous materials law to include nano-sized particles - some as small as one-millionth the width of the head of a pin. The change takes effect Friday.
The unanimous action compels researchers and manufacturers to report what nanotechnology materials they are working with and how they are handling them.
The aim of nanotechnology, in the commercial world, is to develop new products and materials by changing or creating components at the atomic and molecular level. But it is not clear if such materials could cause environmental and health problems.
The amendment has been two years in the works and was prompted by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's plans to launch a nanotechnology department called the Molecular Foundry.
City officials have said the amendment is mostly aimed at monitoring nanotechnology startups and small businesses, rather than the efforts at the national lab, which isn't subject to local regulations because it is governed by the Department of Energy.
The lab initially opposed the city's plans, but now it says it will work with Berkeley leaders.
"Since then, they have come a long way," said Nabil Al-Hadithy, the city's hazardous material manager. "We can now look at them to assist us because they have all the experts."
Al-Hadithy hopes Berkeley's new law will pave the way for other cities. "We're hoping others will use this format and duplicate it in health and safety codes around California," he said.