An overview of European nanotechnology research addressing health and environmental impact of nanoparticles

(Nanowerk Spotlight) Over the last decade, the European Union (EU) has established a strong knowledge base in nanosciences and developed significant research and development capabilities in nanotechnology. In accordance with the Treaty of the EU, applications of nanotechnology need to comply with the requirements for a high level of public health, safety, consumer and environmental protection (Treaty articles require that a 'high level of human health protection […] be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Community policies and activities' and that 'consumer protection requirements […] be taken into account in defining and implementing other Community policies and activities').
Through its Framework Programs (FP), Europe's strategy has been and is to support the safe, responsible development of nanotechnology while providing favourable conditions for industrial innovation. Following this commitment of addressing upfront the potential risks, the European Commission has boosted support for specific collaborative research into the potential impact of nanoparticles on human health and the environment since the Framework Programme 5 (FP5) which started in 1999. These activities have been continued and reinforced in FP6 and in FP7 where several topics were launched specifically addressing the safety of nanomaterials.
At the same time, the EU Members States have also been funding research in that field, but a consolidated overview of these ongoing or finished projects was not yet available so the magnitude of these national efforts was difficult to evaluate. The EU now has released a report that lists all nanotechnology research funding in the Community that address in particular the health and environmental impact of nanoparticles.
The European Commission has adopted the Communication "Towards a European Strategy for Nanotechnology" (pdf download, 992 KB) and the "Nanosciences and nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009" (pdf download, 456 KB). In them a safe, integrated and responsible strategy was proposed and it was stated that "risk assessment related to human health, the environment, consumer and workers should be responsibly integrated at all stages of the life cycle of the technology, starting at the point of conception and including Research and Development, manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal or recycling" and "R&D needs to take into account the impacts of nanotechnologies throughout the whole of their life-cycle, for example, by using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Tools." The purpose of this strategy is to reinforce the Union’s leading position in N&N research, development and innovation, while addressing any environmental, health, safety and societal concerns upfront.
Since 2003, the European Commission has started funding research projects and taking initiatives to address the potential risks of nanoparticles.
The new overview report (EU nanotechnology R&D in the field of health and environmental impact of nanoparticles - pdf download, 400 KB), which was released on January 28, 2008, aims at gathering the most complete overview of past and ongoing research projects funded by the FPs, EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Countries associated to FP6 or FP7 in the area of possible impacts in health, environment and safety of nanoparticles.
Being the first of its kind, this compilation has information of 106 projects, 14 of them are from the FPs which give around €32 million (approx $46 million) in grants. The others 92 projects are from the EU Members States which spend an additional €47 million in grants. The research initiatives funded within the previous Framework Programs (FP5 and FP6) have been until last year primarily related to implications to human health. In some of the projects the study on the environmental implications of nanoparticles has been included.
The portfolio of current and past research projects addressing risk assessment and in particular nano (eco) toxicology issues includes EU funding for more than €28 millions in grants. Although studies addressing health impact of non-engineered nanomaterials (i.e. in exhaustion fumes) are of undeniable interest, in this just released overview report, only research projects dealing with engineered nanoparticles are included. The list does not include many other EU funded projects where risk assessment and safety issues in relation to nanoparticles may be addressed but are not the main objective of the project, such as projects developing new nanostructured materials for health and environmental applications.
Past research activities in the area of impact assessment of nanoparticles will continue and be reinforced within the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (2007-2013), with the first call already containing topics in the area of the health, safety and environmental impact of nanoparticles.
FP7 will be the main initiative for implementing the European Action Plan on Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies. These are the directly related topics in the first call for research proposals (launched on December 22, 2006):
  • NMP-2007-1.3-1 Specific, easy-to-use portable devices for measurement and analysis
  • NMP-2007-1.3-2 Risk assessment of engineered nanoparticles on health and the environment
  • NMP-2007-1.3-3 Scientific review of the data and studies on the potential impact of engineered nanoparticles on health, safety and the environment.
  • NMP-2007-1.3-4 Creation of a critical and commented database on the health, safety and environmental impact of nanoparticles.
  • NMP-2007-1.3-5 Coordination in studying the environmental, safety and health impact of engineered nanoparticles and nanotechnology based materials and products
  • HEALTH-2007-1.3-4: Alternative testing strategies for the assessment of the toxicological profile of nanoparticles used in medical diagnostics. – Call coordinated with NMP-2007-4.1.3-2/4.4-4.
  • Of particular relevance is the topic NMP-2007-1.3-2 Risk assessment of engineered nanoparticles on health and the environment, which strives to reinforce the international cooperation, in particular with USA research teams. This call is the result of particular efforts to address point 7 of the Action plan (on International Cooperation). As results of all these calls, the first project has been already launched and 7 more have been recommended for funding. It is foreseen that the work-programme 2008 will again contain some topics related to health and environmental implication.
    List of FP5 projects

    NANO-PATHOLOGY – The role of micro and nanoparticles in biomaterial-inducing pathologies

    NANODERM – Quality of skin as a bariier to ultra-fine particles

    NANOSAFE – Risk assessment in production and use of nanoparticles with development of preventive measures and practice codes

    List of FP5 projects

    CELLNANOTOX – Cellular interaction and Toxicology with Engineered Nanoparticles

    DIPNA – Development of an integrated platform for nanoparticle analysis to verify their possible toxicity and the eco-toxicity

    IMPART – Improving the understanding of the impact of nanoparticles on human health and the environment

    NANOINTERACT – Development of a platform and toolkit for understanding interactions between nanoparticles and the living world

    NANOSH – Inflammatory and genotoxic effects of engineered nanomaterials PARTICLE-RISK – Risk assessment for particle exposure


    – Safe production and use of nanomaterials

    NANOTRANSPORT – The behavior of aerosols released to ambient air from nanoparticle manufacturing - a pre-normative study

    NANOCAP – Nanotechnology capacity building NGOs SAPHIR – Safe, integrated & controlled production of high-tech multifunctional materials and their recycling

    NANOTOX – Nanoparticle characterization and toxicity

    Michael Berger By – Michael is author of three books by the Royal Society of Chemistry:
    Nano-Society: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology,
    Nanotechnology: The Future is Tiny, and
    Nanoengineering: The Skills and Tools Making Technology Invisible
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