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Posted: October 24, 2008

Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety addresses nanotechnology

(Nanowerk News) Every three years, exponents from policy, government, regulation, science, industry and public interest associations meet in order to discuss questions of chemical safety at the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) . This year’s IFCS forum took place in Dakar, Senegal, from 15-19 of September, with participants from all over the world.
Besides issues more specifically related to conventional chemicals, the forum also adopted the “Dakar Statement on Manufactured Nanomaterials”, which includes ten general statements defining a common basis, and a list of 21 specific recommendations addressed to the participating governments, and the other organisations participating.
The participants agreed that manufactured nanomaterials offer great potential and new opportunities for global industry, science and society and that nanotechnology is one of the most rapidly growing technologies. On the other hand, the forum members noted that there is a need for more coordinated scientific and regulatory efforts concerning risks and safety of manufactured nanomaterials.
Current activities and scientific data were presented at the forum. As a result, it was proposed that a precautionary approach should be applied to manage these risks. It was stated that the development of appropriate and effective regulatory standards is not able to keep pace with the rapid development of nanotechnologies. The insurance industry has recognized that where there is uncertainty about inherent, novel hazards of nanomaterials, a proactive and precautionary approach is needed on a case-by-case basis, for the purpose of comprehensive risk appraisals and regulatory adaptations.
Besides this, it was pointed out that advances in nanotechnology could exacerbate the divide between developed and developing countries without access to such technology, and that nanomaterials might pose significant risks to children and pregnant women, particularly vulnerable populations.
The issue of labelling and information transfer has been discussed. The Dakar Statement recommends producers to provide appropriate information about the content of manufactured nanomaterials in order to inform consumers about potential risks. How this might be accomplished is not discussed in the Statement. At present, only Taiwan has a labelling system to inform consumers of nanoparticles in products. The industry is asked to inform downstream users along the whole value chain about health and safety risks and novel characteristics through the Materials Safety Data Sheet.
In the area of regulation, although many national and regional regulating activities in the field of nanotechnology were recognised, it was adverted to the fact that many countries lack comprehensive policy frameworks dealing with manufactured nanomaterials and that so far there is no inclusive global policy framework.
As exponent of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and lead sponsor, Prof. Dr. Georg Karlaganis took part at the forum. He submitted to the plenary a proposed Dakar Declaration on Manufactured Nanomaterials, which has subsequently been used as the basis for the resulting statement.
In recognition of their strong and productive cooperative team work to international work on the sound management of chemicals, Prof. Karlaganis and Dr. Perrez received a joint IFCS Award of Merit. According to the prize committee, their productive collaboration and complementary expertise has provided strategic scientific, technical and policy guidance and direction for international work on priority topics and areas.
The IFCS was founded 1994 in Stockholm in the context of the UNCED Agenda 21. The IFCS secretariat is located at the WHO headquarter in Geneva. The Forum is charged with devising recommendations regarding to chemical safety for governments as well as international and intergovernmental organisations. The forum serves as a global, flexible, open and transparent brainstorming and bridge-building platform. Participants are members of governments, international, regional and national organizations, industry groups, public interest associations, labour organizations and scientific associations.
The full Forum report is available online at http://www.who.int/ifcs/documents/forums/forum6/f6_finalreport_en.pdf (pdf download, 368 KB)
Source: Innovation Society (Stephan Knébel and Markus Widmer)