Labour Research December 2012

Health & Safety Matters

Letdown over nano risks

There will be no new Europe-wide regulations to tackle the risks associated with nanotechnology.

Nanomaterials are very small particles and are typically in the range of one to 100 nanometres (nm). In comparison, a human hair is approximately 70,000 nm in diameter.

Nanomaterials are already widely used in manufacturing and can be found both in high-tech items such as solar panels and electric car batteries, and in everyday items like clothes and children’s toys.

The chemicals they are composed of may be relatively inert in a larger form. But as nanomaterials they often have very different properties and may present a danger to workers’ health, causing irritation, inflammation, oxidative damage and even genetic damage.

Yet there are no Europe-wide (or UK specific) regulations — with nanomaterials just being treated like any other hazardous substances.

Under pressure to take action, the European Commission (EC) recently conducted a second regulatory review into nanomaterials — a previous review took place in 2008 — and the results have just been published.

In its latest report, the EC has taken a softer approach than many have argued for. It proposes that nanomaterials simply be assessed on a case by case basis and is resisting calls for a mandatory registration system. However, it does intend to make information about nanomaterials publicly available via the internet.