UK Royal Commission calls for more safety measures for
A new report by the UK's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
(RCEP) says that there is an urgent need for more testing, extending
existing governance arrangements and creating new arrangements to
control the development of nanomaterials .
The RCEP study focussed on nanomaterials as an exemplar of a rapidly
expanding new technology. While the Commission found no evidence of harm
to health or the environment from nanomaterials, it believes that the
pace at which such new nanomaterials are being developed and marketed is
beyond the capacity of existing testing and regulatory arrangements to
control the potential environmental impacts adequately.
In evaluating potential risks, the Commission concluded that it is
not the size of nanomaterials per se that is important, but their
functionality, what they do and how they behave, that needs to be
Nanomaterials are important in improving the performance of existing
technologies or making new technologies possible. Many are involved in
delivering significant improvements in healthcare, eg through the
targeting of drug delivery systems.
Many are important in terms of meeting environmental challenges, eg
in the development of cheaper or more efficient solar panels. Sir John
Lawton, Chair of the Commission, said, “While we welcome action taken by
Government and organisations such as the OECD to try to address some of
the uncertainties around the environmental and human health impacts of
nanomaterials, there is far more to do, not least as the rate of
innovation in this sector far outstrips our capacity to respond to the
There is an urgent need for more research and testing of
nanomaterials. It will be necessary to extend the coverage within the
European Union of the existing regulatory regime for chemicals (REACH).
This must be taken forward as a matter of urgency. “We are also
concerned that more sophisticated later-generation nanoproducts will
raise issues which cannot be dealt with by treating them as chemicals or
mixtures of chemicals.
Current testing arrangements and existing regulations are inadequate.
The Commission strongly believes that new governance arrangements are
vital to deal with the challenges posed by current and future innovation
in this sector.”
The Royal Commission says that it "looked hard for evidence of
nanomaterials causing harm to human health or to the environment, and
found no such evidence. However, it is very early in the development of
this technology, and the amount of testing has been relatively limited.
We are aware that laboratory tests on some nanomaterials suggest that
they have properties which could cause concern. This strengthens our
case for an increase in the amount and type of testing to assess whether
these theoretical risks are real, and to monitor their behaviour in the
The Commission concluded that, on balance, there were no grounds for
a blanket ban or moratorium on nanomaterials. The Commission’s
recommendations reflect three main priorities:
- Functionality: we need to focus on the properties and
functionalities of specific nanomaterials as the key driver for
understanding their behaviour in organisms and the environment,
rather than treating all materials in the size range as one single
- Information: a directed and substantial research programme on
the properties and functionalities of nanomaterials must be
established as a matter of urgency, in order to inform risk
assessment and risk management strategies. One essential part of
such a directed programme will be the development of techniques that
allow the presence of particular nanomaterials to be detected in the
- Adaptive management: Government urgently needs to recognise the
degree of ignorance and uncertainty in this area, and the time it
will take to address these. Government needs to develop flexible and
resilient forms of management that allow appropriate control of
emergent technologies in general, and for nanomaterials in
1. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Novel Materials in
the Environment: The case of nanotechnology. Norwich, The Stationery
Office, November 2008. Cm 7468.
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