a year-long investigation, the United Kingdom's Royal
Society and Royal Academy of Engineering released
its final report today examining the health, safety,
environmental, ethical and societal implications
of nano-scale technologies. The report was commissioned
by the UK government last June. The UK's Trade Union
Congress today supported the Royal Society's report
and called for strong regulations to prevent worker
exposure to manufactured nanoparticles. "There
have been plenty of red flags, but the dollar signs
have blotted out the warnings signs," said Rory
O'Neill, spokesman for the Trade Union Congress.
report is a good start toward addressing the
potential negative health and environmental impacts
of nano-scale technologies, particularly the
use of nanoparticles," said Jim Thomas,
European Programme Manager of the ETC Group based
in Oxford. "Just one year ago Lord Sainsbury
[UK Science Minister] said that nanotech was
adequately covered by regulations - he was wrong.
We welcome the Royal Society's precautionary
language on the environment and strong recommendations
report vindicates many of those, like ETC Group,
who have expressed concerns about the dangers
of nanotechnology for human health and the environment
in the absence of regulatory oversight.
the Royal Society considered many broader societal
issues and seems to have listened carefully to
the key questions raised by Prince Charles in
his July 11 editorial on nanotechnology appearing
in The Independent on Sunday - who controls nanotechnology
and who will benefit from it?
report is undeniably impressive and constructive.
It raises all the right questions, even though
some of its answers are incomplete and uneven," notes
Thomas. "While acknowledging the issues
of ownership and control as fundamental, it fails
to adequately address them. There is no discussion
of nanotech monopolies or the implications of
nanotech for the global South. And despite the
UK's colossal controversy over agbiotech, the
report fails to examine the impacts of nanotech
on agriculture and food production."
Royal Society's report also falls short in its
assessment of the potential risks of nanobiotechnology.
It naovely puts the impacts of nanobiotech in
the distant future (more than 10 years), and
it starts with the premise that nanobiotech applications
will not include the production and enhancement
of biological material through genetic modification
technologies. Considering genetic modification
and nano-scale technologies as separate spheres
of science allows the authors to dismiss self-replication
as an irrelevant concern. "In reality, nanotech
and biotech are already converging to create
hybrid materials, machines and living organisms," asserts
Thomas. "The report itself acknowledges
hybrid bio-nano machines and recognizes converging
technologies as a profound issue. The report's
dismissal of the relevance of genetic modification
to nanobiotechnology is contradictory."
Safety & Environment: The Royal Society's
report considered but rejected the need for a
moratorium on nanotechnology, which the ETC Group
called for two years ago, but it unambiguously
concludes that uncertainties about the risks
of manufactured nanoparticles "need to be
addressed immediately" to safeguard workers
and consumers. The Royal Society's decision to
reject the call for a moratorium seems to be
based more on politics than science in light
of their bold recommendations:
Ingredients in the form of nanoparticles should
undergo full safety assessment (even if the substance
has already been assessed in larger forms) before
being commercialized. [De facto moratorium? What
should be done about nanotech products already
on the shelf?]
The use of free manufactured nanoparticles (not
fixed to or within a material) in environmental
applications such as remediation should be prohibited
until appropriate research has been undertaken.
Chemicals in the forms of nanoparticles should
be treated by regulators as new substances (thus
acknowledging that properties of nanoscale particles
may be different from the same chemical substance
in larger forms).
Factories and research laboratories should treat
manufactured nanoparticles and nanotubes as if
they are hazardous and seek to reduce or remove
them from waste streams.
Industry should make public all relevant data
related to safety assessments of manufactured
nanoparticles, and demonstrate how they have
taken into account that properties of nanoparticles
may be different from larger forms.
Consumer products containing manufactured nanoparticles
should be labeled on ingredients lists.
All relevant regulatory bodies in the UK should
review whether existing regulations are appropriate
to protect humans and the environment from potential
nanotech hazards, and report on how regulatory
gaps will be addressed.
With the support of the UK, the European Commission
should review the adequacy of current regulations
with respect to the introduction of nanoparticles
into any consumer products.
The report notes that the future convergence
of nanotech with biotechnology, information and
cognitive sciences could be used for "radical
human enhancement" and that, if realized,
would raise "profound ethical questions" regarding
what we understand to be human, normal and abnormal.
With input from Richard Light, Director of the
Centre for Disability and Human Rights, and from
Gregor Wolbring, Director of the Centre for Bioethics,
Culture and Disability, the report points to
the problematic nature of a "technical fix" to
address "disability." Clearly, new
technologies can't solve social injustices.
Bigger Picture: The report recommends that the
impacts of emerging technologies "be addressed
with some urgency." Specifically, the Royal
Society recommends the establishment of a multi-stakeholder
group to look at new and emerging technologies
and to identify and advise "at the earliest
possible stage" where potential health,
safety, environmental, social, ethical and regulatory
issues may arise and how to address them. The
group's work "should be made public so that
all stakeholders can be encouraged to engage
with the emerging issues." The report also
recommends that the government initiate adequately
funded public dialogue around the development
are pleased to see that the Royal Society takes
seriously the need to create a new body that
has the mandate to assess the broader societal
impacts of new technologies, similar to what
we have called for at the intergovernmental level," said
Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group.
The ETC Group advocates for the establishment
of a United Nations body, the International Convention
on the Evaluation of New Technologies.
For further information:
Jim Thomas, ETC Group (UK) email@example.com tel +44 (0)1865 201719;
mobile: +44 (0)7752 106806
Pat Mooney, ETC Group (Canada) firstname.lastname@example.org, (613) 241-2267;
mobile: (613) 222-6214
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico) email@example.com mobile: +52 55 2653
3330 Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group (USA) firstname.lastname@example.org,
tel: +1 919 960-5223