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Posted: Mar 24, 2011
Study analyses the possibilities and bottlenecks for regulating nanomaterials with uncertain risks
(Nanowerk News) A new report – "Regulating Uncertain Risks of Nanomaterials" (pdf) – contains the results of a study into the regulation of nanomaterials. The study examines the possibilities and limitations for such regulation under existing legislation covering the environment, consumer protection and occupational health and safety, given the uncertain risks attached to the use of nanomaterials. The central research question is which powers authorities hold to regulate production, processing, use and the waste phase of nanomaterials (and products containing them) and the obligations that companies have to assure the safety of man and the environment.
Nanomaterials are used in numerous products because of their special properties. The very small particles and specific forms of nanomaterials affect the behaviour and properties of the materials. Although this results in important new application possibilities, it may also give rise to new health and environmental risks. Much remains uncertain about the effects on man and the environment. Existing risk assessment methods are partially unusable for nanomaterials and new test methods are still under development. The uncertainty surrounding potential risks is exacerbated by the fact that it is usually not known whether nanomaterials are being used.
The study was conducted on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment in association with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. Its purpose is to provide an insight into the powers for authorities to regulate the production and use of nanomaterials with uncertain risks so as to protect man and the environment, plus to provide an insight into the obligations of employers to take measures to protect workers. The questions addressed in the study concern the uncertain risks of nanomaterials and cover the following subjects:
powers to require companies to disclose information (including risk information);
powers to impose requirements, like licensing or general rules;
powers to take measures to exclude products suspected of involving great risks from the market and the role of the precautionary principle in this respect;
obligations for an employer to take the uncertain risks of nanomaterials into account in its occupational health policy;
possibilities for including within the framework of the Working Conditions Act provisions covering work performed with nanomaterials;
liability of employers for health damage caused by working with nanomaterials.
The study takes stock of and analyses the main national and EU legislation. Reference was made to legislative history, explanatory documents, national/EU case law, policy documents and literature. Talks were held with experts from organisations including the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and the Environment. The supervisory committee of the study included representatives of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.