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Industry call to open up on nano safety testing

By Simon Pitman , 05-May-2006

The UK's Royal Society says that any products containing nanoparticles should disclose how they are tested for safety. The claim comes as a new inventory of nanotechnology-based consumer products confirms that personal care products form a significant percentage of all launches.

In March the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars took its research into nanotechnology for consumer products a stage further by launching a comprehensive database of the most recent products launched on the market in the US.

Now the database has been launched in the UK, where the Royal Society is keen to ensure that all the products that it contains, and any others being launched on the market, have clearly defined safety testing standards.

The inventory currently holds a total of 212 products making it the largest of its kind in the world. Although it contains a spectrum of products, from paints to clothing, more than 30 of the product contained within the database fall into the personal care category, with a significant number falling into the sun care and anti-ageing categories.

Professor Ann Dowling, chair of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report into nanotechnologies, said: "We can see from this inventory that nanoscience has a huge range of applications and exciting potential to improve our everyday lives."

The Royal Society, in conjunction with the Royal Academy of Engineering, published the study in 2004 outlining that the belief that nanotechnology posed no new risks, but highlighting the potential effects of free' nanoparticles on health and the environment.

For cosmetics purposes scientists are worried that nanoparticles could behave differently to their full-sized cousins, and the possibility that they could possess different chemical properties. Likewise there are reservations about the impact of nanoparticles when applied to the skin, as they could penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream more easily.

Professor Dowling said: "We are calling for industry to put the methods they use to test the safety of products containing free' nanoparticles, such as some cosmetics, into the public domain because this is one particular area where there is some uncertainty about safety.

"Nanoparticles can behave quite differently from larger materials of the same substance and it is these properties that many manufacturers seek to take advantage of. But these novel properties also mean that some nanoparticles may need to be subject to specific testing. And in order that the public can have confidence in these products the industry should publish details of their testing procedures."

The Royal Society aims to increase transparency within industries working with nanotechnology in an effort to stimulate a greater level of collaboration between industrial researchers and academic scientists. The ultimate aim of this is to establish consistent and industry-recognised methods of testing.

Referring to the Woodrow database, Professor Dowling said that its contents highlights the importance research into health and environmental impacts of nanotechnology to ensure responsible development.

"We also need to see international agreement and cooperation to identify and carry out the research needed to underpin regulation," she added.

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