UN says more research needed on nanotech safety

Research on nanotechnologies’ potential benefits is not enough, argues a United Nations report, which calls for more investment into investigating the effects of nanoparticles on human health and the environment.

“With environmental impacts of nanotechnolgy yet largely unknown and public controls absent, more systemic research and sector-specific policies on nanotech are necessary,” states the United Nations’ (UN) annual report of the global envronment in its chapter on Emerging challenges – nanotechnology and the environment.

The report recognises the enormous potential nanotechnology holds for social, economic and environmental benefits and that this technology is set to become a major player in the global economy. However, the report points to an imbalance common with new and evolving technologies: that between investments spent on research on the potential benefits of nanotech (€7.7 billion) and on research on effects of nanoparticles on human health and the environment (€30 million) in the United States and the EU.

According to the report: “It is essential to correct this imbalance by directing more resources to investigating the impacts of nanomaterials, minimising the health and environmental risks and supporting sustainable development.” 

The UN also doubts the adequacy of current regulatory frameworks to deal with the special characteristics of nanotechnology. The political debate on regulating nanotechnologies is just beginning, whereas nanotech products are already being mass-produced. 

A recent EU conference entitled ‘Nanotechnologies – Safety for success’ discussed ways forward to ensure that innovation in nanotechnologies is linked with safety and responsibility. The Commission was asked to produce a document on safety and competitiveness of European nanotechnologies, including a road map defining actions, responsibilities, and timings.

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