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July 7, 2008

ETUC Passes Resolution on Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials

Lynn L. Bergeson

On June 26, 2008, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) passed a resolution on nanotechnologies and nanomaterials, which calls for the application of the precautionary principle. The resolution states that application of the precautionary principle is necessary to avoid “past mistakes [made] with putatively ‘miracle’ technologies and materials. According to ETUC, the number of workers coming into contact with nanomaterials will increase sharply as nanotechnologies are applied to difference industry sectors, including the chemical, pharmaceutical, and electronics industries. The ETUC urges the European Commission (EC) to amend the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation “so as to give better and wider coverage to all potentially manufacturable nanomaterials.” Because nanomaterials are manufactured or imported below the threshold of one tonne per year and may evade the REACH registration requirements, “ETUC demands that different thresholds and/or units (e.g., surface area per volume) are used for registration of nanomaterials under REACH.”

The resolution sets out a series of demands in different areas related to nanotechnology development:

  • Marketing:
  • REACH’s “no data, no market” principle must apply: nanometer forms of chemicals should not be allowed on the market unless sufficient data are supplied to show no harmful effect for human health and the environment;
  • All nanomaterials, including those produced or imported in quantities below one tonne per year, must come within the REACH registration requirements; and
  • A chemical safety report must be produced for all REACH-registered substances for which a nanometer scale use has been identified.
  • Worker protection:
  • Amend Chemical Agents Directive 98/24/EC to require employers to implement risk reduction measures for substances not proven to be harmless;
  • Involve workers and their representatives in the assessment and reduction of nanomaterial-related risks;
  • Improve worker information about nanomaterials that may be present in products to which they are exposed: safety data sheets must state whether nanomaterials are present; and
  • Provide training and health surveillance for workers exposed to nanomaterials.
  • Research and Development:
  • Earmark at least 15 percent of public research budgets for health and environmental aspects; and
  • Make health and safety at work aspects a compulsory part of all research projects.