OUTLOOK '10: Europe nanotechnology to come under closer scrutiny

30 December 2009 11:45  [Source: ICIS news]

By Philippa Jones

BRUSSELS (ICIS news)--Nanotechnology has been hitting the headlines for a couple of years now, but 2010 is set to be the year in which the EU will start to look at formally regulating the industry.

The first step on the road to putting some kind of order to the technology will be the publication by the European Commission of a new, five-year nanotechnology action plan following a public consultation.

This will then be followed in 2011 by information on the types and uses of nanomaterials, including safety aspects, to provide a “better and more accurate overview” of the nanomaterials on the EU market, the commission announced in November 2009.

It also said that it may propose some regulatory changes “depending on needs”.

Given the relatively small amount of information currently available and the increasing level of concern voiced by consumer groups about the safety of nanomaterials, this task will form a key component of the Commission’s work in 2010. 

Consumer groups are getting increasingly jumpy about the use of the technology and some are even asking for a moratorium - especially on the production and use of carbon nanotubes - until they are proved to be safe.

The announcement by the Commission that it intends to get more serious about nanotechnology should be the trigger for industry to ensure that its house is in order and that it is ready to respond to requests for information or defend its safety record.

Moreover, companies will have to be able to demonstrate the real advantages offered by these products if they are to convince manufacturers and consumers of their worth.

Companies have expressed their reluctance to stop producing nanomaterials until they are proven to be safe.

Craig Barker, director of regulatory affairs at Akzo Nobel, which has started to add nanoparticles to some paints and coatings, has said he “would not like to see the precautionary approach adopted whereby if we don’t have full information we are not allowed to use it”.

Richard Audry, general manager of high performance materials at French chemical company Arkema, which is constructing a carbon nanotube pilot plant in Mont, southwest France, has made similar statements.

“It would be it would be idiotic to stop everything,” he said, urging people to “look at what the technology can bring”.

This may be so, but all companies need to use 2010 to make sure they can demonstrate its advantages and start collecting the information they may soon need to provide to the commission.

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By: Philippa Jones
+44 20 8652 3214

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