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29 November 2011 the Guardian

We must share knowledge so we can minimise risks

Definitions and consensus on what is a nanomaterial, although a dry subject, are critical to make progress.

NanoChannels is funded under FP7 (contract NMP4-CA-2010- 266946)
NanoChannels is funded under FP7 (contract NMP4-CA-2010- 266946).
Image Credit: www.nanochannels.eu.

In 2007 the EU introduced new regulations for chemicals called REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals). This regulates all chemicals produced, used or imported into the EU irrespective of whether they are new or existing. However, critics fear it may not address nanomaterials effectively.

First, REACH primarily applies to chemicals in quantities greater than a tonne per year, and many nanomaterials are produced or used on a much lower scale. Second, there is no automatic requirement to discriminate between nano and bulk forms of a material. But as we do not understand fully the chemical and physical properties of nanomaterials, this is a regulatory grey area.

Definitions and consensus on what is a nanomaterial, although a dry subject, are critical to make progress. To achieve this, bodies such as the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) are defining nanomaterials by means of their properties and how these are measured, while the European commission is investigating how Reach can be modified to properly address nanomaterials.

The European parliament has shown a keen interest in regulating the use of nanomaterials in different consumer products, including food and electronic devices. Legislation for cosmetics has been passed, and will come into force in July 2013, to require all products containing nanomaterials to be labelled.

In parallel to the legislative process, a number of soft regulatory or voluntary schemes are in place across the globe, including those from government, civil society and industry.

It is clear that this is an area of intense activity, which extends beyond the borders of Europe. What do we need to do to move it forward? The key is "responsible innovation". All technologies are potentially dangerous, and we cannot stop developing them while we make sure that every aspect of safety is addressed. But we can research these aspects at the same time, and work collaboratively to share knowledge and minimise risks.

There are many initiatives that take this approach already. We need to continue and strengthen international collaboration, and recognise that the task ahead is beyond the resources of any individual government.

Learn more about the importance of responsible innovation and meet like-minded peers at the IoN's workshop in central London on the 31st January 2012 (http://www.nano.org.uk/events/ion-events#responsible-innovation).

This article was published originally in the Guardian as part of the IoN's contribution to the NanoChannels project.

Source: the Guardian /...

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