First large scale release of nanotechnology product into the environment provokes concern

November 3, 2003

Brussels, 31 Oct 2003

An international action group has expressed its concern following the largest environmental release to date of a product created using nanotechnology.

A solution intended to prevent erosion has been sprayed on 1,400 acres of Taos Pueblo Native Indian land in the US after a fire destroyed 5,000 acres in an area which is considered sacred by the First Nations community. The fire left the mountainside exposed to erosion and threatened the community's water source.

Aerosolised and dropped from helicopters, the product causes silicate particles to self-assemble in the presence of water, forming a crystal matrix. This acts as a mulch, preventing erosion while allowing seeds that have been added to the mix to establish themselves in the soil.

The ETC (erosion, technology and concentration) group are concerned that a novel nanotechnology product has been released into the environment without any investigation into potential consequences. The group uses the opportunity to once again call for 'an inclusive social debate on nanotechnology' and 'conscientious regulation'.

'ETC Group is concerned that [...] commercialisation is taking place below the radar of regulatory agencies because the novelty in nanotechnology lies in its scale, not necessarily in the often conventional substances it uses. Materials exhibit unique and sometimes unpredictable behaviour when they are reduced to the nano-scale, even while the chemical composition remains unchanged,' reads a new communication from the action group.

While the debate is perhaps getting underway more slowly than the ETC group may prefer, policy makers in Europe have now begun to request further investigation into the possible side effects of nanotechnology. The European Parliament's industry, external trade, research and energy committee has called for a study on the need for new regulations on nanotechnology, while the same subject is to be discussed by the UK's parliamentary scientific committee in November.

At EU level, a number of research projects on the safety of nanotechnology are already being funded by the European Commission, while projects in this field under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) will also address the aspect of safety.

The NANOSAFE project assesses the risks involved in the production, handling and use of nanoparticles in industrial processes and products, as well as in consumer products. The results are expected to indicate risks to workers and consumers, and to recommend regulatory measures and codes of practice.

Other projects are assessing the effectiveness of skin as a barrier to the ultra fine particles sometimes used in body care products and household cleaning products, and the identification and significance of nanoparticles of an exogenous nature in pathological processes.

The ETC group is working with partners to draw up an international convention for the evaluation of new technologies, which it hopes to put before the United Nations in 2004.

For further information on the ETC group, please visit:
http:///www.etcgroup.org


For further information on nanotechnology research in the EU, please visit:
http:///www.cordis.lu/nanotechnology/home .html

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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