Safety of nanomaterials jointly charted by the authorities and the industry
The safety of nanomaterials is investigated in the EU’s just-beginning extensive Nanoreg project as a joint effort by the authorities and the industry. Finland’s goal in the project is to continue to study the safety of microfibrillar and nanofibrillar cellulose. To date, only a little is known about the health and environmental hazard impacts of nanoparticles, although the industrial use of nanomaterials has increased rapidly. For example, they are already common in sports equipment, sunscreens and other cosmetics products.
Nanotechnology is a technique for building nanometre-scale structures (one nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre). Interest in the use of nanoparticles is great, as they can be used to improve product characteristics; for example, nanoparticles help make a coat of paint more scratch-resistant. On the other hand, the safety of nanoparticles raises questions.
– It is difficult to identify risks, as matter can have an unknown behaviour in nanoscale. The effect on cellular level can also vary according to what impurities have attached to the nanoparticle or which substance has been purposefully used to coat it, describes Jukka Ahtiainen, Senior Researcher at Tukes.
The industrial use of nanomaterials has stirred up animated discussions in the EU. The REACH Regulation regulating the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals plays a central role in legislation. The idea of safety-promoting dialogue between the industry and the authorities has come up to complement the idea of just using regulatory measures. This forms the basis of the Nanoreg project to be implemented in the years 2013 to 2017.
Authorities, research institutes and companies and consortiums from 14 European countries will participate in Nanoreg. The project aims at developing guidelines for safe usage risk management and safety instructions, while assessing the need for new legislation.
– A stable and safe operating environment is a benefit that is shared by both the authorities and the industry. It is necessary for new applications and innovations, and the resulting investments, to be possible in the first place, says Jukka Ahtiainen.
In Finland, participation in the Nanoreg project is coordinated by the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) that is also responsible for oversight and guidance concerning the REACH Regulation. Also included in the project are the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, studying the safety of nanotechnology, and Stora Enso and UPM as a joint Nordic Cellulosa consortium.
Finland’s national research portion of the Nanoreg project focuses on microfibrillar and nanofibrillar cellulose materials that have several potential industrial applications in different products. Microcellulose and nanocellulose comprise wood fibre and fibre bundles originating from wood cellulose. The intention is to study the safety of biodegradable microcellulose and nanocellulose experimentally by means of biological testing. This is important in order for it to be possible to use nanocellulose, for example, as raw material for food packaging.
– In the responsible development of products manufactured from microcellulose and nanocellulose, research plays a key role. Research works aim to find and confirm potential benefits in microcellulose and assess the safety measures required for manufacturing and utilization of the materials. For this reason, the Nordic Cellulosa consortium acts in close cooperation with other fields and authorities, and promotes research in safe applications of microfibrillar and nanofibrillar cellulose, say Esa Laurinsilta from UPM and Irene Wedin from Stora Enso. UPM and Stora Enso are committed to the precautionary principle and their policy is to comply with all the existing and evolving laws and regulations related to the use of all materials.
For further information:
Tukes: Senior Researcher Jukka Ahtiainen, tel. +358 29 5052 004
UPM: Director Esa Laurinsilta, tel. +358 40 821 0350
Stora-Enso: Senior Specialist Irene Wedin, tel. +46 10 467 1012