According to the Commission, the pace at which new nanomaterials are reaching the market is beyond the capacity of existing testing and regulatory arrangements.
Although the report is careful to point out that there is no evidence that nanomaterials harm either human health or the environment, it does state that the amount of testing on such materials has been limited and must be increased.
“In the Royal Commission study we looked hard for evidence of nanomaterials causing harm to human health or to the environment, and found no such evidence,” the report reads.
For this reason the Commission concluded that there were no grounds for a blanket ban or moratorium on nanoparticles.
However, laboratory tests on some nanoscale particles suggest they could pose dangers, said the Commission. Therefore, it has concluded that existing regulations are inadequate and new arrangements ‘are vital to deal with the challenges posed by current and future innovation in this sector’.
Extending our REACH
Some progress can be made by extending the current REACH regulations to successfully cover nanoparticles.
REACH imposes a responsibility on those who import and manufacture chemicals to identify, and provide information, on any potential health threats. REACH does not discount nanomaterials, but the Commission noted that the nanoform of a material may be treated in the same way as its non-nano counterpart.
In addition the limit of one tonne (under which the chemicals are exempt from regulation) may be too high, as nanoparticles are often used in very small quantities.
The body suggested a checklist system for materials not covered by the REACH system, where manufacturers would be obliged by law to provide information about the potential risks posed by the materials throughout the product life cycle, including disposal by the consumer.
Manufacturers could be offered legal protection if they filled in this checklist to the best of their abilities given the knowledge available.
According to the report an environmental monitoring system is also needed, along with the development of techniques to detect nanomaterials in the environment and living organisms.
Functionality not size is the key
Regardless of the testing or regulations implemented, the report was clear that a material’s potential toxicity should be judged on its functionality and not on its size.
In other words, although the behaviour of a material in the nanoscale may well differ from the macro, this does not mean that all nanoparticles will behave in the same way.
By making this distinction the report highlights the need to address nanomaterials depending on what they do and are capable of doing, rather than assuming they are a single class of materials with unifying properties.