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Public Health (20-10-2005)

Nanotechnology: Commission lauches a consultation on how best to assess the risks

The Commission is launching a public consultation on risk assessment methods for nanotechnologies. Nanotechnology involves the controlled production of new materials which have one or more dimensions thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Industry is increasingly using nanotechnology for a wide variety of sectors, including healthcare, consumer products, information technology and the environment. The online consultation, which will run until 16th December 2005, aims to gather feedback on the appropriateness of current risk assessment methods for nanotechnology products and how they can be improved.

Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said, "The competitiveness of a society depends greatly on how amenable it is to new developments and technologies. We must avoid a situation where the marketing of highly innovative nanotechnology products is obstructed by difficulties in providing consumers with the safety assurances they seek. Unquestionably, consumer safety remains the first and highest priority. That is why we are looking for the most appropriate way to carry out risk assessments that will assure the safety of Europeans and build confidence in nanotechnology."

Through the online consultation, stakeholders are invited to comment on the opinion recently adopted by the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). This opinion looks at the limitations of current risk assessment methods in addressing the specific characteristics of the products on nanotechnologies and where improvements could be made. Although the focus is very much on the methods of risk assessment, rather than the actual risks of nanotechnologies, SCENIHR also carefully considered health and environmental factors that would need to be taken into account.

Nanotechnologies are considered to offer benefits which could improve the quality of life of European citizens, and the Commission aims to prevent shortcomings in risk assessment methods which would hamper new developments and innovation in this field. However, the priority for the Commission is to ensure a high level of consumer safety in relation to nanotechnologies, and the opinion therefore underlines the need to have sound and reliable risk assessment methods, suitable for routine use. This in turn would foster greater consumer confidence in the new technologies.

The Commission gave high priority to research and development on nanotechnology in its Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, in recognition of the huge potential of nanotechnology and its contribution to European competitiveness. An even higher profile has been proposed for this technology under the Seventh Framework Programme. On 7th June 2005, the Commission adopted an Action Plan for nanosciences and nanotechnology for Europe 2005-2009. The Action Plan recognises the need for a safe, integrated and responsible approach to the development of nanotechnologies, for which appropriate risk assessment methods are key.

Click here to read SCENIHR’s opinion and access the consultation