Nanomaterials are materials consisting of very small particles mostly in the size range of 1 to 100 nanometres (nm). Although many man-made nanomaterials have been commonly used for a long time (e.g. as pigments in paints, fillers in plastics or paper, etc.), newly developed and modified nanomaterials (e.g. carbon nanotubes as light weight material, quantum dots in TV screens etc.) have attracted attention not just for their innovation potential but also for potential hazards and risks. For example, if inhaled or ingested, they may pass through body membranes, and enter cells and organs of living organisms. There is a lot of research going on all around the world and scientific reports are being published by many bodies. Nevertheless, this information is still dispersed in many different places and citizens find it difficult to understand where nanomaterials are used and whether and what risks may be linked to them.
The Commission signed an agreement with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to set up an EU Observatory for Nanomaterials. The aim of the Observatory is to give objective and reliable information on products and safety aspects of nanomaterials in the EU market. It will collect, analyse and review available information from a wide range of sources, and complement this information by conducting external studies to fill specific data gaps (e.g. new market studies and surveys) concerning nanomaterials on the market. A major part of the Observatory will be devoted to presenting information on nanomaterials, their uses and their safety in a clear and user-friendly way to business, workers, consumers and authorities.
The Observatory for Nanomaterials was identified as the most effective and efficient option to collect and present information about nanomaterials in the market, and preferable to setting up new legislation which would require companies to register nanomaterials and products containing nanomaterials. This option has been implemented so far by 3 EU countries (France, Belgium and Denmark) and advocated by several non-governmental organisations. The Commission intends to target its action on information that is most relevant to identify and manage risks, rather than imposing blanket measures.
In addition to identifying and communicating information on nanomaterials and their uses, the Commission is working on a range of measures to better assess and control the risks of nanomaterials. Notably, the Commission plans to propose amendments to certain Annexes of the REACH Regulation in 2017. Those amendments aim at clarifying and fine tuning information requirements to demonstrate the safe use of nanomaterials. Further specific legislative provisions on nanomaterials exist in the areas of cosmetics, food information, biocides, food contact materials, medical devices etc. There is also guidance to workers on the safe use of nanomaterials.
The agreement with the European Chemicals Agency to host the Observatory for Nanomaterials covers an initial period of 5 years. The Observatory will be set up through a step-by-step approach and will integrate and expand the existing Commission information sources on nanomaterials.