Action urged over nanomaterials

November 12th, 2008

Today, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution published a report: Novel Materials in the Environment: The case of Nanotechnology (12th November 2008) which calls on the Government to assess the safety of nanoparticles and undertake more research on toxicity.   Not suprisingly this has caused a flurry of media attention, including the following reports:

Action urged over nanomaterials <>
Tight regulation urged on nanotechnology <>

Scientists call for urgent testing of health implications of … <>

Attack of the Tiny Particles – be very afraid <>

Nanotechnology sparks fears for the future <>

Tiny but toxic: Nanoparticles with asbestos-like properties found … <>

So, is all this attention just “background noise” or is there something of concern to the public?   With any new technology there is uncertainty and potential risk from the use of materials where the long term effects on human health or the environment is unknown.   The key issue that should be of concern to the public, in relation to nano materials, is to ensure that there is verifiable data collected in an open way and published for all stakeholders to see.   A transparent and open governance of nanotechnology is an essential first step for building an information base about toxicity of nanoparticles that the public can have confidence in.

It is time for the voluntary reporting scheme on nanoparticles, introduced by DEFRA, to be made manditory.   The scheme had 12 responses in two years, yet according to the Woodrow Wilson Center there are over 600 products already on the market containing nanoparticles.

For most of the developing world, who lack the science and technology capability and capacity to engage in testing of nanoparticles, it is essential that scientists and companies publish their test results in the public domain.   Only then can we have the confidence to ensure that developing countries are not subjected to unwanted externalities from the use of products that contain nanoparticles.   Given the potential of nanotechnology to contribute to globally significant issues such as solar energy and clean drinking water all stakeholders – Government, scientists, local communities, and NGO’s – must work together in an open and transparent way.   We might then be able to deliver on the massive promises and potential of nanotechnologies.

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