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Posted: Oct 07, 2010
Nanotechnology safety remains a concern says Llody's
(Nanowerk News) An article on Lloyd's website says that for insurers, uncertainty still surrounds the increasing use of nanotechnology in products and how safe they are. The article is titled "Regulators get to grips with nanotechnology":
Despite the increasing use of nano-materials in consumer products and the fact that no one really understands their long-term effects on people and the environment, little specific regulation exists on the use of nanotechnology.
CNTs (carbon nano tubes) for example are one of the most commonly used nano-materials and are now produced on an industrial scale. The market is growing fast and primary production alone is projected to be worth $460m in 2011. By the year 2014 it is estimated that 15% (by value) of all products will contain nanotechnology.
CNTs are microscopic cylinders or needles and in bulk are like fibrous dust. Some fear that they may have similar toxic properties to asbestos if inhaled by workers (or anyone else that comes into contact with them) during production, shipping or use.
Similar forms of nano-materials are used in films and coatings to produce self-cleaning equipment and appliances, for example. Cosmetics firms use nano-materials in skincare products. Yet, the effect of these products on human DNA – or the environment – is still not clear.
Health impact not clear
Lack of understanding of the risks around nanotechnology has led to a regulatory gap with "nanospecific" regulation still lacking in most countries.
Some progress has been made. In Europe, the European Commission's chemicals registration legislation, REACH, was adopted to address the specific risks of carbon nanotubes in 2008. In March 2009, the EU legislation on cosmetics was adopted for nano-materials, requiring labelling, definition and safety assessment.
Additionally, the next European Environment and Health Action Plan is expected to address the challenge of nano-materials among its priority areas.
In 2011, the Commission will also have to respond to the European Parliament Resolution adopted in April 2009, on the regulatory aspects of nano-materials. According to the resolution, various ambitious measures will be taken in order to ensure safety with regard to nano-materials and nanotechnology.
For its part, the Belgian Presidency of the EU has sent out a signal to European and national authorities and scientific and regulatory bodies, so that they take the necessary measures leading to the required regulatory provisions.
Paul Magnette, the Belgian Minister for Energy, Environment, Sustainable Development and Consumer Protection, has put forward five proposals to respond to consumer needs whilst ensuring their safety:
• Define the obligation to inform the consumer of the presence of nano-materials in consumer products.
• Ensure the traceability of the chain so as to be able to return to the source, if necessary. It should be obligatory to maintain a register of nanomaterials.
• Identify the most appropriate regulatory path at the EU level for risk evaluation and management.
• Encourage Member States, during this transitory period, to take up the responsibility and draw up integrated national strategies and concrete measures in favour of risk management, information and monitoring, and
• Regulate the claims made on labels of products containing nanomaterials.
Federal and state authorities in the US are behind Europe in coordinating their moves to regulate the use of nano-materials. But in 2009 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed two new rules for multi-walled and single-walled carbon nanotubes, which have yet to be transformed into law. The rules, which may be brought in by the end of the year, will oblige companies to notify the agency at least 90 days prior to the manufacture, importing or processing of CNTs.
In Asian countries, existing regulation has not yet been modified specifically for nano-materials.
How can the insurance industry best cope with the continuing uncertainty around nanotechnology, the risks and regulation? The CRO Forum, a grouping of chief risk officers in European insurance companies, suggests these preemptive risk mitigation strategies:
• raise clients' awareness;
• map risk exposure (e.g. improve understanding of how individual clients deal with nanotechnology);
• consider whole life cycle of CNTs and their impacts on traditional lines of business; and
• develop appropriate underwriting measures - on a company by company basis - and adapt them to the facts and circumstances of the individual risks being underwritten.