The European Commission has taken a significant step towards effectively regulating nanotechnology – formally announcing that nanoparticles should measure between 1 and 100 billionth-of-a-metre.
The guidance – in a formal EU recommendation – will remedy a situation where industry associations across Europe have had different definitions. The EU decision will be reviewed in 2014, taking account of technical progress.
The EC is currently drafting proposed regulations controlling the impact of nanoparticles on the environment and health – having one agreed size would underpin any law.
EU environment commissioner Janez Potočnik said: ‘It is an important step towards addressing any possible risks…while ensuring that this new technology can live up to its potential’.
The UK’s Chemical Industries Association (CIA) has questioned the practicality of a definition of a nanoparticle and expressed concern that it would be difficult to integrate into existing legislation.
Dr Anne-Gaelle Collot, head of environment at the CIA, said: ‘The UK is leading the way in nanomaterial innovation to meet challenges such as climate change, water scarcity and improving health, so we support the need for a definition of the term “nanomaterial” to enable consistency of approach for regulators and industry.
‘We are concerned that we lack the standardised measurement techniques which will be important for establishing the legal certainty that particular substances are or are not nanomaterials, and that the proposed definition will add unnecessary burden for companies, leading to added costs and less efficient use of resources.’
The global chemical industry, organised under the International Chemicals Industry Association (ICCA), has worked and agreed on internationally harmonised scientific elements of a nanomaterial definition, outlining requirements for a workable definition.
The industry agrees with the EC recommendation that the definition should be based on the size of particles within substances and not based on the hazardous properties of a substance and its perceived risk.
But it says there must also be an appropriate cut-off criterion and choice of metric to allow for the use of globally standardised measurement.
The chemical industry therefore advocates using weight concentration rather than particle number distribution to determine the cut-off criterion for nanomaterials.
Collot added: ‘The CIA and its members are committed to making sure that the manufacture and use of nanomaterials is done safely and environmentally sustainably.’