06/13/2008

Nanotechnology: Health and environmental risks of nanomaterials - research strategy

A report called 'Nanotechnology: Health and environmental risks of
nanomaterials - research strategy' has recently been published by the German
Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It presents possible
risks of nanotechnology for workers, consumers and the environment.

As an important future technology, nanotechnology1 presents an opportunity for
positively influencing economic development in the long term through intensive
research and the effective translation of the research results into innovative
products. In many areas it is currently not possible to assess the
toxicological and ecotoxicological risks associated with this emerging
technology. Nanotechnology is increasingly in the public eye. It is expected
that the importance of nanotechnology will continue to increase and that
workers, consumers and the environment will be exposed to an increasing extent.
Hence, there is a need to monitor the development of the new technology, to
weigh up the opportunities and risks in a transparent process and compare them
with established technologies.

According to present knowledge, the insoluble and poorly soluble nanomaterials2
are of particular toxicological relevance. For this reason, and in order to
sensibly define the scope of the subject, this research strategy relates to
these nanomaterials and to chemicals safety at the workplace and for consumer
and the environment.

Chemicals legislation (e.g. REACH) does not provide for a specific procedure
for testing (e.g. toxicological studies) and assessment of nanomaterials such
as, for example, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, iron oxide, silicon dioxide or
carbon black which represent a nanoscale modification of an existing HPV3
substance with the same CAS number. Up to now, there has been no specific
regulation for nanomaterials in the areas foodstuffs, consumer products and
cosmetic products, either. For example, no particle sizes have been defined in
the purity criteria for the authorized food additives silicon dioxide (E 551)
and titanium dioxide (E 171). In addition, nanomaterials can be used as
auxiliaries in plant protection products and biocides and in formulation. Here,
too, no guidelines or guidance documents for testing and no requirements
regarding identification and size or other physico-chemical properties
currently exist. Due to the small number of available studies, it is hardly
possible to make comparative statements on the basis of the results available.

Since exposure of humans and the environment, the toxicological properties and
risks cannot yet be evaluated, the need to conduct further investigations and
close gaps in knowledge by means of research and assessment activities is
generally recognized. Similar to technology-oriented research, in safety
research, too, there are demands for a shift away from pure fundamental
research and a new orientation which enables the translation of the results
into risk-oriented and comprehensive assessments (or recommendations for
measures) and the covering of the relevant toxicological and ecotoxicological
end points. As a matter of principle, it is therefore necessary that the
toxicological and ecotoxicological studies that are to be performed can be
utilised in regulatory toxicology. In addition, the goal is to achieve a
balance between in vitro and in vivo methods, which is influenced to a large
extent by the validity of the in vitro methods. To achieve this, a validation
of the in vitro methods by in vivo methods is required.

However, consideration should also be given to the fact that nanoscale
particles are not entirely new. Natural and unintentionally produced particles
of this size have long been entering the environment and resulting in the
exposure of humans and the environment.


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AplusA-online.de - Source: Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health