Nanotechnology in question

Nanotechnology is already here, yet most of us know nothing about it.
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  • Updated:22 Jun 2007

02.Call for regulation

Information wanted

Consumer surveys in Europe and Australia have found that people generally know very little about nanotechnology. While we tend to appreciate its potential in medicine, we’re less willing to buy nanotechnology products, especially if we’re not informed we’re doing so. Our biggest fears are of the unknown, as the effects of free nanoparticles in our bodies and the environment aren’t yet fully known and understood.

Governments and regulators have to take these concerns seriously and work together with industry to ensure the health and safety of people and the environment. We want to know what’s happening in the marketplace — not just that nanotechnology can improve our lives, make products cheaper and change the world for the better but that any risks are kept to a minimum. In short, we need a rigorous testing regimen and regulatory controls.

What you can do

If you’re concerned about the lack of transparency and regulatory control, write to manufacturers asking them to ensure their products containing nanoparticles are safe and clearly labelled. And write to your local MP and the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, MP, Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, asking them to:

  • Make labelling mandatory for all products containing nanoparticles.
  • Put research into the risk factors of nanotechnologies before product research.
  • To engage the public in the debate.

Calls for regulation

Calls for some sort of regulation of nanotechnology industries are mounting around the world.

  • One of the foremost scientific associations, the UK’s Royal Society, and the Royal Academy of Engineering already warned as far back as 2004 that nanoparticles should be treated as new chemicals and their release into the environment be avoided as far as possible until more is known about how they behave in the air, water and soil. It also recommended that ingredients in consumer products undergo a full safety assessment before they’re permitted for use in products, and that manufacturers publish their methodologies publicly and identify the fact that manufactured nanoparticles have been added.
  • The United States Environment Protection Agency decided late last year that silver ion-generating washing machines must be registered as a pesticide, because the silver released into the wash is regarded as a pesticide. This means the onus is on manufacturers to prove their products won’t harm the environment.
  • On the home front, Friends of the Earth (FoE) has been working on nanotechnology since 2005 in response to the rapid development of the nanotechnology industry with little or no critical debate or regulation. It’s calling for a moratorium on the research, development and production of synthetic nanoproducts while regulations are developed to protect the health and safety of workers, the public and the environment.
  • The NSW Greens have joined FoE in their call for an immediate moratorium on nanotechnology products. And some academics are urging governments to strengthen our regulatory systems to ensure nanomaterials are evaluated for their safety and environmental impacts before they’re released into the environment.

Public debate needed

So far there’s been little public debate on the topic. The National Nanotechnology Strategy Taskforce released an options paper almost a year ago. It said there’s an immediate need to fund and co-ordinate research into the risks arising from health, safety and environmental issues relating to nanotechnologies. It recommended, among other things, that a dedicated federal office be established, a regulatory framework investigated and public discussion initiated urgently.

While the Industry Minister announced a $21.5 million national nanotechnology strategy in his recent industry statement, few details had been made public at the time of our research. We hope it’ll give due emphasis to assessing the impacts, addressing regulation and generating public discussion.


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