Posted: April 30, 2008

Japanese Ministry of Health calls on local governments/industry to take preventive measures for nanomaterials safety

(Nanowerk News) Regarding the effect of nanomaterials on human health, several studies, including animal experiments, have been carried out in various countries; however, no solid conclusions have been obtained thus far. In these circumstances, the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare has issued a notice to prefectural governments and nanotechnology industry requesting them to take preventive measures with respect to exposure to nanomaterials beginning February 7th, 2008.
The notice “regarding interim preventive measures against exposure at the sites of manufacturing and handling of nanomaterials” was triggered by a recent paper on the effect of a large amount of multiwall carbon nanotubes that were administered to mice intraperitoneally (Journal of Toxicological Sciences, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2008, February), pp. 105-116).
The notice was issued targeting those involved in the manufacture, repair, and inspection of nanomaterials. Manufacturers are instructed that any apparatus should have a sealed structure or that a local exhaust system should be installed. For operating processes other than manufacturing, the processes should be carried out under either sealed , unattended or automated conditions, or a local exhaust system should be installed. The notice briefly touches on management of work and protective equipment. Here, nanomaterials are specified merely as solid materials in the form of either nanoparticles or nano-structured matter(including those that have inner nanoscale structure or aggregates of nanoparticles) for which the length of at least one of the three dimensions is less than 100 nm. However, no specifications address the amount, kind, composition, shape, or purity of the material.
In response to this notice, the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, requested the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare to take safety measures concerning carbon nanotubes and other materials. Specifically, the request included the following items.
1) Promote research on health risk analysis of nanomaterials including carbon nanotubes
2) Take measures to prevent occupational exposure and release into the environment at sites of manufacturing and handling of carbon nanotubes and other materials from the view point of prevention
3) Obtain and provide information to industries and local governments regarding the effects of carbon nanotubes and other materials on health, and the actual conditions of production, use, and disposal in cooperation with relevant ministries
The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare said that it will examine safety measures through an investigative commission of specialists. Both the Labour Standards Bureau in charge of the management of the health of workers and the Pharmaceutical and Food Safety Bureau in charge of monitoring the effect of materials on consumers have each decided to establish investigative commissions.
The “investigative commission on preventive measures for the exposure of workers to chemical substances, the toxicity of which to humans is still unclarified” (Labour Standards Bureau), will evaluate health effects, examine actual working conditions and related problems of workers, and investigate required measures. In contrast, the “investigative commission on safety measures for nanomaterials” (Pharmaceutical and Food Safety Bureau) will examine safety evaluation methods, effects on human health, and safety measures. The first - third commissions will be held jointly; subsequently, the Labour Standards Bureau and Pharmaceutical and Food Safety Bureau will hold each investigative commission separately and will separately compile reports from autumn to winter this year.
The first joint investigative commission was held on March 3rd, and the range of target nanomaterials was discussed. Discussions included whether or not nanomaterials include aggregates as well as dispersed nanoparticles, and the shape of nanomaterials. A comment was offered that we cannot further our discussion unless the material is clearly defined. It was also pointed out that both a coalition of and an information exchange between government agencies are important. In addition, the activities of Japanese government agencies and foreign governments and institutions were introduced.
The second joint investigative commission was held on April 4th, and the development status and measurement methods of nanomaterials was primarily reported and discussed. The National Institute for Materials Science explained the changes in material properties resulting from the miniaturization of materials at the nanoscale. Toray Corporate Business Research, Inc., introduced survey results on the use and the amounts of production of main nanomaterials. Furthermore, the Nanotechnology Business Creation Initiative (NBCI) reported on “the state of development of nanomaterials”, the Japan Cosmetic Industry Association reported on “nanomaterials and cosmetics”, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health reported on “industrial hygiene at sites where nanomaterials are handled – current status of and problems with measurement/control methods”.
The third joint investigative commission will be held in May, and it will focus on information on the toxicity of nanomaterials.
Meanwhile, there is a move to examine the effects of nanomaterials on the general environment and waste disposal at the Ministry of the Environment. In the future, cooperation among government agencies and related foreign institutions, such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), will become more important.
Source: National Institute for Materials Science
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