News --- A UK working group has completed its report
on nanotechnology, concluding that it has great potential
and poses few new risks. However, as much is still unknown
about the effects of nanoparticles on human health and
the environment, the report advocates caution and the
classification of nanoparticles and nanotubes as new
chemicals under UK and EU legislation.
The potential benefits to be
gained from nanotechnology include new materials,
more powerful computers and revolutionary medical
techniques. One such product could be medical implants.
Current implants, such as heart valves, are made from
titanium and stainless steel alloys. These metal alloys
can, however, wear out during the lifetime of a recipient.
Nanocrystalline zirconium oxide (zirconia) is a hard,
bio-corrosion resistant and bio-compatible alternative.
Another potential medical application is new ways
of targeting drugs to specific parts of the body.
As the report states, however,
'Whereas the potential health and environmental benefits
of nanotechnologies have been welcomed, concerns have
been expressed that the very properties that are being
exploited by researchers and industry (such as high
surface reactivity and ability to cross cell membranes)
might have negative health and environmental impacts
and, particularly, that they might result in greater
Indeed, almost all safety concerns
expressed to the working group during their survey
related to the potential impacts of manufactured nanoparticles
and nanotubes on the health and safety of humans,
non-human biota and ecosystems.
With this in mind, the report
recommends that Research Councils UK establish an
interdisciplinary centre for research into the toxicity,
epidemiology, persistence and bioaccumulation of manufactured
nanoparticles and nanotubes and their exposure pathways.
The centre would also develop methodologies and instrumentation
for monitoring nanoparticles and nanotubes in both
built and natural environments, and would collaborate
with organisations in Europe and beyond collating
The report also recommends
that, until more is known about environmental impacts,
the release of manufactured nanoparticles and nanotubes
into the environment should be avoided as far as possible.
The paper also advises that
chemicals in the form of nanoparticles or nanotubes
be treated as new substances under existing regulations
and the future EU 'registration, evaluation, authorisation
and restriction of chemicals ' (REACH) system.
The working group identified
regulatory gaps, and therefore recommends that the
European Commission review the adequacy of the current
regulatory regime with respect to the introduction
of nanoparticles into consumer products.
'This report has confirmed
the great potential of nanotechnologies,' said Professor
Ann Dowling, chair of the working group that produced
it. 'Most areas present no new health or safety risks,
but where particles are concerned, size really does
matter. Nanoparticles can behave quite differently
from larger particles of the same material and this
can be exploited in a number of exciting ways. But
it is vital that we determine both the positive and
negative effects they might have.'
To access the report, please consult the following