Europe plans voluntary code for nanotech research

In it efforts to promote safe and responsible nanotechnology research, the European Commission (EC) is planning to adopt a voluntary code of conduct. The code will take the form of an EC Recommendation inviting member states, industry, research institutes, funding agencies, individual researchers and others to follow its guidelines.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Research is open to consultation until 21 September 2007. Contributions, which may be made online via the Sinapse communication system, are sought from a broad cross-section of European society from specialists to the general public.

There are significant knowledge gaps concerning exposure risks associated with nanomaterials, and the EC believes that the development and use of nanotechnologies should not be unbalanced or left to chance.

“The European Union and the European Commission are coherently following their policy,” says Renzo Tomellini, who heads the Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies unit in the EC’s research directorate. “Personally, I am extremely happy to see that more and more stakeholders world-wide are sharing the responsible approach that the Commission and Europe have called for.”

Tomellini outlines a number of steps that have been taken to date. These include a number of dedicated research projects, the establishment of an EC interservice group, a series of workshops (including collaborations with the US) and a European action plan for nanotechnology.

Europe’s approach is rather different from that of the US, where nanotechnology oversight is the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency recently decided to continue looking at nanomaterials on a case by case basis, and is facing criticism for this approach. Europe, on the other hand, is implementing policies that bear a close resemblance to recommendations made by the Washington DC-based Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN).

Tomellini acknowledges the role played by PEN, and remarks: “I am personally very glad to see what happens, and that the Commission’s ideas and approach are more and more widely shared.”

Further reading: Towards a code of conduct for responsible nanosciences and nanotechnologies research, European Commission, July 2007.

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.