"Products claiming to contain nanomaterials are already widely available on the European market and these are just some of the boasts that can be found in shops or online," stressed European consumer groups.
The 2010 nano inventory, published on 25 October by the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC) and the European Consumer Voice in Standardisation (ANEC), found 475 products containing nanomaterials compared to 151 the previous year.
The inventory includes selected categories of product that are most often consumed in everyday life: products for cars, electronic devices, child products, food and drink, cosmetics, health and fitness products and a range of cleaning products.
The products concerned range from nanosilver antibacterial underwear, nanogold wrinkle cream, various food supplements and different textiles with nanofabric that repels stains and gets rid of moisture.
Monique Goyens, director-general of BEUC, said products were going on sale "without assessment of their claims or the risks these nanomaterials may pose to public health".
She referred to the situation as "a game of health and safety roulette" and reiterated BEUC's support for the Belgian Presidency's initiative on the mandatory traceability of nanomaterials.
ANEC Secretary-General Stephen Russell said that "in the absence of independent safety assessment, and given the unconfirmed nature of the claims, we believe action needs to be taken urgently".
He called for the creation of an EU public inventory where manufacturers would be obliged to register products containing nanomaterials, and hopes to see "a legal requirement introduced for the labelling of some nano-products".
Last year, Dr Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor to the 'Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies' at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, expressed concern that controversy surrounding nanotechnology was leading manufacturers to remove any mention of nanomaterials from their products – making finding reliable information about products that contain nanomaterials very difficult.
Common definition of nanomaterials still elusive
Meanwhile, a common definition of nanomaterials is still elusive as the European Commission tabled its proposal for a recommendation on defining the term 'nanomaterial' only last week, on 21 October.
The draft proposal follows a 2009 European Parliament resolution which called for the introduction of a comprehensive science-based definition of nanomaterials in Community legislation, to allow for nano-specific amendments to relevant rules and regulations.
The draft definition comprises three criteria. Whenever one of the criteria is fulfilled a material is considered to be a nanomaterial.
According to the Commission, a nanomaterial "consists of particles, with one or more external dimensions in the size range 1nm-100nm for more than 1% of their number size distribution; has internal or surface structures in one or more dimensions in the size range 1nm–100nm, and/or; has a specific surface area by volume greater than 60m2/cm3, excluding materials consisting of particles with a size lower than 1nm".
All interested parties are invited to submit their views on the proposal by 19 November.
The EU executive wants to hold another public consultation on the subject by 2012. The definition might also be reviewed based on experience gained, new scientific knowledge or technological development.