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International Coalition Calls for Smart Definition of Nanotechnology

(Beyond Pesticides, November 29, 2010) A coalition of over 40 environmental organizations from 22 different countries are calling on the European Commission to ensure nanomaterials are adequately defined and regulated in the EU by rapidly adopting a “cautious and broad” definition. The groups hope that by defining nanomaterials, long-awaited regulation can finally be put in place to help ensure they do not harm people and the environment.

The recommendations were submitted by the green group European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and the Center of International Environmental Law (CIEL) on November 19. The Commission is set to adopt a final definition, which will be applicable to all EU legislation addressing nanomaterials, by the end of the year.

“Regulation has been stuck for many years because of the absence of a definition, so this proposed definition is very much welcome,” says Senior Attorney David Azoulay from CIEL. “But if the final definition adopted is too narrow and does not include all materials for which there are health concerns, it might render all future regulation useless.”

In the U.S., the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) heard testimony on the development of a definition and policy on nanotechnology in organic standards in October. While the NOSB proposed a general ban over nanotechnology, there was debate over the definition of nanotechnology. Currently, the board has, as a working definition, defined engineered nanomaterials as substances deliberately designed, engineered and produced by human activity to be in the nanoscale range (approx 1-300 nm) because of very specific properties or compositions (eg. shape, surface properties, or chemistry) that result only in that nanoscale.

The groups calling on the EU warn against any attempt to narrow the scope of the definition, since it would then exclude several materials with serious health and environmental concerns. However, the groups do welcome the inclusion of the following in the draft definition:
• The inclusion of aggregates and agglomerates;
• The calculation of size distribution on the basis of particle number as opposed to mass;
• The adoption of a 1% threshold for particle number size distribution to consider a material a nanomaterial.

The groups also call for prompt evaluation analysis to ensure that the final definition includes materials that are already of concern, while avoiding materials that are unlikely to warrant additional scrutiny.

“Scientists have made it clear: there is no scientific basis to limit the definition of nanomaterials to particles below one hundred nanometres. The EU Commission should follow their advice and adopt a broad and cautious definition,” says Louise Duprez, EEB Nanotechnology Policy Officer.
Silver nanoparticles are now widely impregnated into a wide variety of consumer products to kill off bacteria, including cosmetics, sunscreens, sporting goods, clothing, electronics, baby and infant products, and food and food packaging. However, little is known about the impact of nanoparticles on human health and the environment, and mounting evidence suggests that these materials can pose significant health, safety, and environmental hazards. Nanosized particles can be released from impregnated materials via washing or sweating where they may pose numerable unknown adverse effects to humans and water systems.

“We urgently need risk management measures to ensure that companies only place safe nanomaterials on the market,” says Vito Buonsante, Health and Environment lawyer from ClientEarth.

A complete set of comments and proposals can be found on CIEL’s website.

Sources: EEB Press Release
CIEL press release


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