The researchers from EMPA and ETH Zurich, both in Switzerland, found that the majority of 40 companies surveyed in Germany and Switzerland who are working with nanoparticulate materials (NPM) did not perform any form of risk assessment.
Twenty-six companies (65%) indicated that they did not perform any risk assessment of their nanomaterials and 13 companies (32.5%) performed risk assessments sometimes or always. Fate of nanomaterials in the use and disposal stage received little attention by industry and the majority of companies did not foresee unintentional release of nanomaterials throughout the life cycle.
Furthermore, no factors were identified that could provide any explanation of why some companies conducted risk assessment and why others did not. Of the 13 companies conducting assessments, companies reported that a conclusive evaluation was possible and 5 reported that it was not possible. Although no further information was given by the companies, a majority of the companies perceived their current risk assessment procedures as sufficient to evaluate NPM risk, even though no standardized procedures for NPM exist.
The authors suggest that their results may have detected a lack of any systemic approach among industry players in regard to assessing the risks of nanoparticulate material.
Consequently, developing proactive risk management strategies appears to be an urgent task for minimizing the risk of harm to the environment and the public health. How much responsibility the individual firm should take in a globalized market is an issue of considerable debate in policy.
Nevertheless, it may be necessary for regulators to take measures to ensure that engineered nanomaterial risks are properly assessed by industry. A first step could be to initiate an NPM database with information on the properties of the different NPM produced and handled in industry. Such a database would assist in categorizing NPM with respect to, e.g., chemical properties, toxicity, and consumer use. The database could have an international scope such as the European Union.
Since the voluntary reporting scheme in place in the UK has received very few contributions from industry, a legally enforced information duty of NPM producers seems therefore to be the most effective solution to ensure quality and coverage, the authors say. Actively initiating risk management strategies may also help industry address any public concern related to the possible risks of NPM.
Only 24 out of 40 companies gave complete information on the size distribution of their NPM – it would be interesting to know if they couldn’t or just didn’t want to. Of the particle information that was provided, the researchers found that the nanomaterials in their sample exhibited such a diversity of properties that a categorization according to risk and material issues could not be made.