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Posted: March 17, 2007
Nanotechnology risk discussion is heating up in Australia
(Nanowerk News) The Australian government has released a summary of the results from a call to Australian industry to identify its use of engineered nanomaterials. In response to the release of this nanotechnology products inventory, the environmental activist group The Greens New South Wales have called on the Australian government to put an immediate moratorium on the release of consumer products containing manufactured nanomaterials until adequate regulation is in place and to establish a regulatory body to assess the health and environmental risks of nanomaterials.
Back in February 2006, the Australian Department of Health and Aging, through the National Industrial Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), issued a call issued a voluntary call for information on nanomaterials. The call for information was directed to all persons who manufactured or imported nanomaterials or products (mixtures) containing nanomaterials for industrial uses during 2005 and 2006.
Companies were asked to provide information on the types of nanomaterials, their volume of introduction and uses. Nanomaterials used exclusively as therapeutic goods (such as sunscreens), food or food additives and agricultural or veterinary chemicals, do not fall within the scope of NICNAS and were consequently outside the call for information.
NICNAS used a broad definition for nanomaterials as those materials that have been specifically engineered to have at least one dimension less than 100nm. The key information sought included the type and volume of nanomaterials introduced into Australia, as well as the availability of those nanomaterials to the public.
The responses to the call for information have been collated and analyzed and the results were published in January 2007. Companies reported introducing approximately 21 types of organic (e.g. polymers) and inorganic (e.g. metal oxides) nanomaterials. Seventeen of the 21 nanomaterials are for commercial use, with four used for research and developmental purposes. The commercial applications can be classified mainly into surface coatings, printing, water treatment, catalysts, domestic products and cosmetics.
Over half of the nanomaterials are used in volumes of less than 1 tonne/year and 4 out of 17 nanomaterials are used in volumes of less than 0.1 tonnes/year. The largest group of nanomaterials reported was the metal oxides, which are used in surface coatings, water treatment, catalysts and cosmetics, printing and domestic products. There are several silica-based nanomaterials, which are used for water treatment, cosmetics, surface coatings and printing. All the nanomaterials are imported, principally in products (mixtures).
In their call for a moratorium the Greens argue that the government has no nano-specific safety assessment process to protect workers and the environment from unsafe exposure and no labeling requirement for nanomaterials in products.
"...the public is none the wiser to the risks of slapping suncream or shampoos containing nanoparticles on our families and sending people off to work in factories that handle this potentially toxic technology" said Lee Rhiannon, a member of the Australian parliament. "In 2004, the United Kingdom's Royal Society recommended that given their toxicity risks, nanomaterials should be subject to rigorous safety assessments prior to their commercial release, and factories and laboratories should treat nanomaterials as if they were hazardous. Three years later, we can buy products containing nanomaterials and there is still no regulatory oversight of nanoparticles."