IHS Chemical Week


Nanomaterials: Can we take the risk management issues a step further?

1:33 PM MDT | June 4, 2013 | By ROB VISSER

Visser looks at new ways
to regulate nanomaterials.
 In recent years, quite a number of meetings have been held where the safety of manufactured nanomaterials has been addressed, and often the same story was told:  these chemicals present many new opportunities in terms of uses but also possible challenges regarding safety aspects. Opinions about risk management vary from applying a strict measure of precaution to views that current regulations will probably be able to do as a large part of the job for this new type of chemicals.

This session at the Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF) will be different, however, and try to take the discussion one step further and attempt to look forward. There is a good basis to do that, because the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; Paris) has published a communication about six years of work on testing, assessment, and management of manufactured nanomaterials.

“After six years of work, the OECD and its member countries have come to the conclusion that the approaches for the testing and assessment of traditional chemicals are, in general, appropriate for assessing the safety of nanomaterials—but may have to be adapted to the specificities of nanomaterials. As with other chemicals, it is clear that each nanomaterial may pose specific challenges, but in most instances, they can be addressed with existing test methods and assessment approaches. In some cases, it might be necessary to adapt methods of sample preparation and dosimetry for safety testing. Similarly, adaptations may be needed for certain test guidelines. But it will not be necessary to develop completely new approaches for nanomaterials. OECD continues to review all existing methodologies to identify and implement the necessary changes needed for their application to nanomaterials,” OECD states in a recent release.

In addition, the European Union has published its Second Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials, and one of the conclusions is, “In the light of current knowledge and opinions of the EU scientific and advisory committees and independent risk assessors, nanomaterials are similar to normal chemicals/substances in that some may be toxic and some may not. Possible risks are related to specific nanomaterials and specific uses. Therefore, nanomaterials require a risk assessment, which should be performed on a case-by-case basis, using pertinent information. Current risk assessment methods are applicable, even if work on particular aspects of risk assessment is still required.”

These publications are milestones for the OECD and EU countries in their thinking about regulation of manufactured nanomaterials—and they are possibly a good basis for a new phase in the debate about their safety. There will be four excellent panelists at HCF who will provide introductions, including the OECD and EC introducing the state of play in their constituencies and indicating future work needed. An NGO and industry expert will say what they think about the implications of these statements in a regulatory context and what kind of future they estimate in order to ensure the safe use of these chemicals.

This will be a solid starting point for an interesting discussion which can go beyond the issues which have been discussed now for a number of years. There are 100 minutes reserved in the programme for nanomaterials, so there will be ample opportunity for all views to be ventilated and debated. So, I think that there are very good reasons to attend this session at the HCF and get up to date information on the state of play with respect to the safety of manufactured nanomaterials.

Rob Visser is the former deputy-director of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The Helsinki Chemicals Forum takes place 23-24 June, 2013 at Helsinki, Finland. See the program and find out more at www.helsinkicf.eu.

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