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Posted: October 16, 2009
EU plans to review its policies on nanomaterials
(Nanowerk News) The EU executive plans to respond positively to the European Parliament's call for a number of EU policies and regulations covering health and environmental safety issues related to nanomaterials to be reviewed.
"The Commission will review all relevant legislation within two years to ensure safety for all applications of nanomaterials in products with potential health, environmental or safety impacts over their life cycle," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, addressing a nanoregulation conferenceexternal on 9 October.
"Many different Commission services must contribute in response to the broad range of requests," he added.
The statement represents the first response to MEPs' call for a clear regulatory and policy framework on nanomaterials.
According to sources, the Commission has adopted its response to the Parliament's request, but is yet to officially send it. As on many other EU policy areas, there is internal disagreement on the matter within the EU executive. While its departments for environment and health back stronger legislation and precautions on the matter, the department for enterprise and industry could do with less stringent or specific legislation.
Earlier this spring, the House asked the Commission to "review all relevant legislation within two years [by April 2011] to implement the principle 'no data, no market' for all applications of nanomaterials in products with potential health, environmental or safety impacts over their life cycle".
The Parliament argued that in the absence of any nano-specific provisions in Community law and given the lack of appropriate data and methods to assess risks related to nanomaterials, it is impossible to address their risks within the framework of current EU legislation.
It also called for amendments to the EU chemicals legislation REACH. The House wants to see registration of nanomaterials simplified, a "chemical safety report with exposure assessment for all registered nanomaterials irrespective of hazard identification" developed, and notification requirements for all nanomaterials placed on the market introduced.
Green MEP Carl Schlyter, draftsman of the Parliament's non-binding resolution, stressed the need for "a compulsory register for nanomaterials, as experience shows that voluntary reporting by the industry does not function".
Nano in REACH
Steffi Friedrichs, managing director of the Nanotechnology Industries Association (NIA), stressed that nanomaterials are fully covered by REACH. Even the information aspects of nanomaterials are already covered by the legislation, as a nanomaterial is distinct from the bulk form of a substance, she added.
Meanwhile, she said she could support a mandatory reporting scheme if a clear science-based definition was developed taking into account the specific characteristics of nanomaterials.
Wolf-Michael Catenhusen, head of Germany's 'NanoKommission' and author of a reportPdf external on the regulatory aspects of nanotech, recommended adjusting the REACH registration mechanisms to nanomaterials and introducing a legal framework that deals with the specific properties of these tiny materials. This could be done by adding a "nano chapter" to REACH, for example.
Products containing nanomaterials are already being mass-produced in areas such as food, electronics and cosmetics, but the political debate on regulating nanotechnologies began only recently. A lack of scientific knowledge and the absence of evidence regarding the health and safety hazards of nanotech, however, make regulation impossible.
To date, no government in the world has developed specific nanotech regulation, but all stakeholders agree that more research into the health and environmental risks posed by nanoparticles is needed.
The EU executive's regulatory review of existing European legislation concluded that while the current EU legislative framework "covers in principle the potential health, safety and environmental risks in relation to nanomaterials," current laws may need to be modified as the depth of scientific knowledge on nanomaterials increases. Specific labelling schemes for products containing nanomaterials could be developed, for example.
A Commission Communication on regulatory aspects of nanomaterials, published in June 2008, covers nanomaterials currently in production and/or placed on the market, but does not address nanomaterials or nanoparticles that occur naturally or are unintentionally produced via combustion, for example.