05 November 2010

How have NGOs responded to nanomaterials’ potential toxic effects?

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Many non-governmental organizations have reacted against the rapid introduction of nanomaterials in the market. They ask questions about potential toxic effects and advise authorities to apply new approaches

Non-governmental organizations around the world share concern for finding nanomaterials with potential harmful effects in stores. Research shows different nanomaterials cause injures to animal models and it is unclear what the effects would be on humans. These organizations have developed different policies to deal with the problem.

David Santillo is a scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories who has worked for more than 15 years developing environmental protection policies. “Greenpeace policy on nanotechnology is to apply a precautionary approach. This doesn’t mean that we are necessarily opposed to all research and development of nanomaterials. Rather, we want to make sure that methods are in place to evaluate and confirm the health and environmental safety of products containing nanomaterials, before they are released into the market,” he said. “Regulators’ discussions have been hampered by disagreements about the definition of nanomaterials. Nonetheless, rather than developing regulation in parallel with nanotechnology, the technology has been forced ahead. Nano can mean a lot of different things. There are for example particles, tubes, fibers and sheets formed from different compounds that could all have properties distinct from bulk forms of the same materials. Carbon nanotubes can bear similarity to asbestos, but the complexity of nanotubes is that not all appear to have asbestos-like properties. What transformations can take place and what changes will we see over time in the physical and chemical nature of nanomaterials, which are used in products and may be released to the environment? Those are questions that people do not have answers to. In developing the technologies and products of the future, the focus should be on trying to find the most sustainable solutions, whether or not nanotechnology has a role to play,” he said.

The Friends of the Earth network also believes in a precautionary approach. It is especially alarming for them to find personal care products containing potentially harmful nanomaterials. They are asking for a thorough regulatory system to manage nanotoxicity risks. According to the organization nanomaterial-containing personal care products should be removed from the market and further release should be officially stopped, until adequate peer-reviewed safety studies have been conducted.

Louise Duprez, Nanotechnology Policy Officer at EEB, Europe’s largest federation of environmental citizens’ organizations, highlights serious knowledge gaps concerning the safety of nano. EEB also want nanomaterial-containing products that have not undergone safety assessments withdrawn from the market. To facilitate tracing and identification they suggest that permitted, registered nanomaterial-containing products are labelled and available for consumer review in a publicly available EU-wide list.

Precaution is a word that unites most if not all non-profit organizations concerned with nanotechnology. They are blowing the whistle on manufacturers, pointing out that potentially unsafe products should not be on the market. The European Parliament as well as governments in many countries are listening and developing ways to assess possible nanomaterial hazards. This development will most likely continue until sufficient research results are available to thoroughly describe potential risks. When the results are published, these organizations can rewrite their policies.


 

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