Brussels, 28 Feb 2005
The UK government has responded to a report on the 'opportunities and uncertainties' surrounding nanotechnology with promises of tighter regulation and further research to fill knowledge gaps.
The government response pledges an assessment of current regulatory mechanisms intended to control the release of nanoparticles and nanotubes in the environment, and to ensure that safeguards to public health are robust. The government will also work with its EU partners in order to gauge the need for specific European guidance on the assessment of risks associated with medicines and medical devices.
In a further move to address safety concerns raised in the 2004 report by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, the government agrees to investigate the best process for submitting all manufactured free nanoparticles that are to be used as ingredients to a safety assessment by a scientific advisory body. 'The DTI [Department of Trade and Industry], and other relevant departments, will discuss with our European partners the most effective mechanisms for referral to the relevant scientific advisory committees and for responding to their advice to ensure the safety of manufactured unbound nanoparticles in cosmetics and other consumer products,' reads the government paper. A commitment to changing labelling requirements is also made.
In order to attend to knowledge gaps, the UK government is to establish a programme of research focusing, in particular, on toxicity and exposure pathways for nanoparticles, as well as instrumentation for monitoring their presence in the workplace and environment. The government Department of the Environment, Feed and Rural Affairs (Defra) will therefore chair a Research Coordination Group, bringing together representatives from other government departments, research councils and regulatory agencies with a view to establishing international links to promote dialogue and to draw on and facilitate the exchange of information.
The government response has been welcomed by the Royal Society, although it has pointed to a lack of new funding as cause for concern: 'The Government is taking the regulatory implications of nanotechnologies seriously and has committed to acting on our concerns that, for example, until we know more about the effects of manufactured nanoparticles, their release into the environment should be minimised and people working with these materials, such as in university laboratories, should be properly protected, said Professor Ann Dowling, chair of the working group that produced the academies' report.
'However we are disappointed that there is no new money for the research that will be needed to underpin appropriate regulations,' she added. 'Many nanotechnologies are still in their initial stages of development and there are still gaps in our knowledge about what opportunities, and potential risks, they hold.' To access the UK government paper, please visit: http:///www.ost.gov.uk/policy/issues/inde x.htm#Nanotechnology