Nanotechnologies and materials
Nanomaterials are manufactured chemical substances or materials with structures ranging from approximately 1 to 100 nm in at least one dimension.
The physico-chemical properties of nanomaterials may differ from those of the non-nanosubstance (known as bulk substance) or particles of a larger size, because nanomaterials have unique and more pronounced characteristics compared to the same material in bulk form.
A large number of products containing nanomaterials are already on the European market including consumer products such as batteries, paints, cleaning materials, anti-bacterial clothing, cosmetics and food products.
Because of their unique properties, nanomaterials offer technical and commercial opportunities including for environmentally beneficial technologies such as photo-voltaic panels. However, the potential risks to the environment and health and safety concerns for humans and animals are still poorly understood.
While there is no explicit reference to nanomaterials in the REACH and CLP (classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures) regulations, they meet the definition for substances and the regulatory requirements therefore apply to nanomaterials. However, due to the distinct nature of nanomaterials, existing risk assessment methodologies may not be adequate to determine the safety or otherwise of these novel materials.
Alongside political discussions of how to address these challenges, standards are being developed to address some of these risks. Standardisation committees at international and European level are working to produce standards covering the responsible development of nanomaterials, labelling, detection and identification of nanoparticles, lifecycle assessment and waste disposal. The SNS is represented on the UK mirror-committee as well as the European working group and is contributing scientific expertise on the environmental behaviours of nanomaterials during use and at the end-of-life phase.