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June 24, 2011

Netherlands Delegation Notes Risks Associated with Nanomaterials

Lynn L. Bergeson

The Netherlands delegation submitted a paper entitled “Risks associated with nanomaterials” for discussion during the June 21, 2011, meeting of the Environment Council of the European Union (EU).  The paper states that, under current EU legislation and the precautionary principle, “industry bears primary responsibility for the safety of its products for workers and consumers.” The current legislation is intended, however, “to assess the hazards of chemical substances used in products, such as cosmetics, but is not geared to evaluating the specific hazards related to nanoengineered particles.” According to the delegation, a key problem is the lack of a generally accepted definition of what constitutes a nanomaterial. The paper calls on the European Commission (EC) to take three steps to regulate nanomaterials: (1) reach agreement on a broadly applicable definition of nanomaterials that covers as many materials with nanospecific risks as possible; (2) ensure traceability and enable a fast and adequate response should a specific nanomaterial ever be found to be hazardous; and (3) develop an adequate risk assessment system for nanomaterials and for products with nanoscale features, and, where necessary, of risk control measures. The paper urges the EU to take action, rather than member states, to prevent industry from facing non-harmonized definitions of nanomaterials, different substance databases, additional administrative costs, and possible market restrictions for certain materials or products. The paper notes that, in the absence of such measures, however, member state initiatives “may be necessary to protect health and the environment.”