Nanotechnology commercialisation calls for closer attention to safety and environmental considerations

(Nanowerk News) Commercial uses of nanotechnology are continuing to grow and expand. There already exists a huge number of different types of nanomaterials and nanotechniques, but not enough effort has gone into the management of safety-related risks, the costs of which are significant. This is causing much uncertainty in the field of nanotechnology application and also having a major impact on European competitiveness..
The small size of nanoparticles presents countless opportunities for the development of product characteristics. At the same time, however, small size can make nanoparticles toxic if they penetrate the skin or enter the circulation via the lungs. Nanomaterials can also cause a significant environmental burden.
The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and the Academy of Finland are hosting a panel discussion on questions of nanosafety in connection with the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) conference in Manchester in July. The panel discussion will take place under the heading “The small matter of safety – responsible use of nanotechnology”.
Date: Wednesday 27 July at 2.15 p.m.
Venue: European Science Forum, Manchester Central
The panel will include Professor Kai Savolainen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH); Professor Andrea Hartwig from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology; Dr. Socorro Vázquez-Campos from LEITAT Technological Centre; Dr. Dario Greco from the University of Helsinki; and Dr. Emma Martín Rodríguez from the University of Madrid.
The panellists will be addressing such questions as: How are consumers and employees exposed to nanomaterials? What are the health hazards and other risks involved? How to promote the safe and sustainable use of nanomaterials?
Risks to both people and the environment
Nanoparticles are particles less than 100 nanometres in size that are used in engineered nanomaterials (ENM). As well as presenting a risk to human health, ENM have been shown to have evoke harmful effects among environmental species including mammalian organisms, small animals like daphnia magna, or bacteria and plants.
“There are thousands of nano-enabled products on the market intended for consumers, but we still have limited knowledge about the effects of ENM on human health and the environment,” says Professor Kai Savolainen.
“Furthermore, there are tens of thousands of different ENM of which no more than 200 are being used commercially. Many of them are harmless, but some may be hazardous to health, and even cause cancer. In addition, many of these materials may in higher amounts cause environmental harm,” Savolainen explains.
To aid the responsible development of nanotechnologies, the EU framework programme is funding several research projects that are addressing uncertainties in the health and safety of nanomaterials. One of these projects is NANOSOLUTIONS, which is coordinated by FIOH. The project will develop a “Nanosafety Classifier” – a computational based predictive principle for the assessment of ENM safety.
A film explaining how a four-year EU-funded project will help make the use of nano materials safer for all. The project seeks to identify and elaborate the characteristics of engineered nanomaterials (ENM) and determine their biological hazard potential. It will help develop a safety classification model for ENM based on an understanding of their interactions with living organisms, benefiting industry and enabling innovation.
“Currently, each ENM has to be treated as a separate chemical and be individually tested to assess its safety characteristics. This means that developing new materials using different nanoparticles is both time-consuming and expensive,” says Dr. Dario Greco from the University of Helsinki.
“NANOSOLUTIONS will create a set of biomarkers of ENM toxicity that are relevant in assessing and predicting the safety and toxicity of ENM across species. This will help to reduce expenses and uncertainty as well as increase the rapidity of ENM hazard assessment,” Dr. Greco continues.
Source: Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland)