Nanotech needs a compulsory register

A transatlantic report on nanotechnology has called for a mandatory reporting system for nano-products across the US and European Union.

An international register for commercial materials based on nanotechnology is a key recommendation of the report, launched this week at a conference at Chatham House, London.

“Voluntary reporting initiatives in the UK and US have failed to fill existing knowledge gaps on the commercial use of nanomaterials,” said Robert Falkner of the London School of Economics, the project coordinator. A market register would create transparency about the use of nanomaterials in consumer products, he added.

The report is a joint effort by the LSE and Chatham House in London and the Environmental Law Institute and the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson international Centre in Washington DC.

Other recommendations include stronger international efforts to create the scientific foundations for assessing the potential risks of nanotechnology, and significantly increased funding for research into its environmental, health and safety effects.

Nanotechnology means manipulating things with dimensions between 1 and 100 nanometers (billionths of a meter). On this scale, materials acquire new physical and chemical properties, which bring many benefits but also potential dangers.

Although the risks are not well known, the greatest fear is probably about the effect of nanomaterials on the lungs.

Applications range from computing to medicines, food to energy storage, sports equipment to sunscreens. The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies maintains an inventory of consumer goods containing nanomaterials, which lists more than 1,000 products on the market in 24 countries. They contain materials such as nanoscale silver, carbon, titanium, silicon, zinc and gold.

“Despite significant differences between the US and EU regulatory regimes, taking the steps we recommend will not only make it easier to address the potential risks of nanomaterials but also will increase the likelihood that the US and EU will ultimately implement similar risk management approaches,” said Linda Breggin of the Environmental Law Institute.

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