Are the risks of nanotechnologies appropriatly assessed by current methods?
Effects of the infinitely small
Brussels, 23 August 2007
Engineered particles of nanometre size can have unique properties and very different effects on health and the environment compared to the same material at larger sizes. New or modified methods are needed to better determine the properties of nanoparticles, measure exposure to them, assess their potential hazard, and detect their movement in the body and in the environment.
This is one of the conclusions of an opinion issued by the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) of the European Commission. The modified Opinion (after public consultation) on the appropriateness of existing methodologies to assess the potential risks associated with engineered and adventitious products of nanotechnologies.
At the request of the European Commission DG Health and Consumer Protection, GreenFacts has faithfully summarised this opinion on nanotechnologies.
Highlights of the SCENIHR Opinion
Nanotechnology is the science of designing, producing, and using structures and devices having one or more dimensions of about 100 millionth of a millimetre (100 nanometres) or less.
In consumer products, nanoparticles can contribute to stronger, lighter, cleaner, and “œsmarter” surfaces and systems, for instance in scratchproof eyeglasses, anti-graffiti coatings for walls, transparent sunscreens, etc. They can be used to increase the safety of cars, for instance by enhancing tyre adhesion to the road, improving the stiffness of the car body, or preventing condensation on car windows. Nanoparticles can be used in a wide variety of ways in biology and medicine, for example in drugs targeting specific organs or cells.
Chemicals in their nanoparticle form have properties that may be very different from their larger physical forms. As a result, it is necessary to assess the risks arising from nanoparticles that may come in contact with humans, other species, or the environment, even if the effects of the chemicals that make up the nanoparticle are well known.
Existing methodologies need to be modified or new ones developed to be able to better determine the physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles, measure exposure to them, assess their potential hazard, and detect their movement inside living systems, be it in human tissues or in the environment.
In general, and in spite of a rapidly increasing number of scientific publications dealing with nanoscience and nanotechnology, knowledge and data are still insufficient on several aspects to allow satisfactory risk assessments for humans and ecosystems to be performed.
A short summary is now available at http://copublications.greenfacts.org/en/nanotechnologies/ in English, French, German, and Spanish. The full publication is available in GreenFacts”™ copyrighted Three-Level Structure of increasing detail on the website of the DG Health and Consumer Protection: http://ec.europa.eu/health/opinions2/en/nanotechnologies/