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September 7, 2017

EC Environment DG Publishes Report on Assessing the Environmental Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The European Commission (EC) Environment Directorate General (DG) published an August 2017 report entitled Assessing the environmental safety of manufactured nanomaterials.  The report “shows that, despite early fears, nano-sized particles are not inherently more toxic than larger particles; however, differences between them may be notable and new insights are still being provided by research.”  The report’s aim is “to present the most promising strategies and most significant challenges of nanomaterial characterisation, exposure, fate and behaviour, ecotoxicological hazard and risk assessment.”  It includes examples and case studies of both the scientific developments and the knowledge gaps.  According to the report, while research and development into the new properties and potential of nanomaterials is “fast-moving,” research supporting comprehensive risk assessments “is often lagging behind.”  The report notes that there is an “urgent need” for long-term exposure studies.  Although testing of each individual nanomaterial would “always be preferred,” the report states that “its feasibility is questionable, financially and ethically.”  The report states that there is growing interest in a safe-by-design approach, which would represent a further shift towards the burden of proof approach under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation.  Safe-by-design would require increased cooperation between researchers, designers, developers, distributers, potential end-users, and regulators.  The report suggests more incentives need to exist to publish and publicize negative results and that there is a need for platforms and networks, such as the European Observatory for Nanomaterials, “that will enable unprecedentedly accessible data and collaboration between businesses, researchers, decisionmakers and assessment experts.”