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October 15, 2009

EC Will Review Legislation to Ensure Safety of Nanomaterials

Lynn L. Bergeson

In an October 9, 2009, speech at the stakeholder conference concerning nanomaterials on the market, Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for the Environment, stated that the European Commission (EC) “will review all relevant legislation within two years to ensure safety for all applications of nanomaterials in products with potential health, environmental, or safety impacts over their life cycle.” The EC’s review is in response to an April 24, 2009, resolution adopted by the European Parliament that questions whether current legislation covers the relevant risks relating to nanomaterials and asks the EC to consider whether revisions are necessary to address nanomaterials.  Dimas stated that the EC “has not made up its mind on how precisely to get the information needed.” The EC intends to look at measures taken by member states and non-European Union (EU) countries, including voluntary reporting programs.

Dimas examined whether the existing regulatory framework of the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) program is sufficient to ensure “a high level of protection of health, safety and the environment” from nanotechnology products. Dimas stated that nanomaterials are covered by REACH under the definition of a chemical substance, and the general obligations therefore apply as for any other substance. According to Dimas, the “important” question to ask is whether the one tonne threshold used by REACH is appropriate for nanomaterials. Dimas stated:

Once we have a better idea of the scope and nature of nanomaterials on the European market we can then take a step back and go through the rules.  We will need to consider whether registration of the majority of nanomaterials will take place in 2010 or only at the end of the registration timetable in 2018 and if there are some nanomaterials that will not be registered under REACH.  We will also need to look at other key provisions in REACH to see if they are adequate for nanomaterials.