BUND, the German branch of Friends of the Earth, recently published a report on the potential health and environmental risks associated with nanotechnology. The document is part of a campaign to gather international support for increased regulatory oversight at European level.
As well as briefly discussing possible models for sustainable nanotechnology, the report makes 10 key recommendations. These include the “strict application of the precautionary principle”, a total opposition to self-replication, public transparency, the classification of nanochemicals as new substances subject to legislative control, and the setting up of a governing body responsible for nanotechnology issues.
The precautionary principle states that substances should be checked for safety before being released into the environment. “Precautionary regulation of nanotechnology will not delete innovation, but rather direct it in a direction beneficial to all: consumers, environment and producers,” says BUND’s nanotechnology spokesman Patricia Cameron.
This broad statement of principle does not address the question of what level of confidence is required before a product is released to the market.
Cameron argues in similar terms for the EU’s new chemicals directive REACH. She claims that REACH will create a competitive advantage for European companies, as there will be a growing demand for safe chemicals on the world market.
“The safety requirements of existing regulation apply irrespective of the size of particles.” says European Commission spokesman Antonia Mochan. “The Commission is carefully monitoring the development of nanotechnologies, so as to be able to take regulatory initiatives if a need for regulatory change should occur.”
Mochan adds that current methods for risk assessment may have to be adapted to take into consideration particular features of nanomaterials, and the Commission has launched a series of initiatives aimed at bridging the current knowledge gap. It is also undertaking a review of existing legislation to assess how appropriate it is to regulate nanomaterials.
Further reading: Für einen verantwortungsvollen Umgang mit der Nanotechnologie, BUND, Berlin, May 2007.
Article first published in Nanomaterials News.