Registration required for nanomaterials?

 

  • Nanomaterials have invaded humans’ daily lives, but little is known about their health impact.
  • In an attempt to guarantee their traceability, the Belgian health minister has introduced draft legislation aimed at establishing a nanomaterials registry.

The main objective of a new draft royal decree, presented by Laurette Onkelinx, the Belgian minister of health, is the assurance of better traceability of nanomaterials. This is in view of helping the authorities to intervene in the event of a public health or worker security risk. Various advisory bodies are currently studying it. Its goal is to force all companies that put such substances on the market to declare that fact in order to create a registry of all goods containing nanomaterials. This registration process should begin on January 1, 2015.

 

Nanomaterials are extremely small, which gives them some amazing properties. They have opened up new scientific horizons in a variety of areas, such as materials engineering, medicine and environmental, among others. But they also have much more down-to-earth applications, and they are increasingly intruding into our daily environment: sun creams, laundry detergents, tires, paints, refrigerators, clothes, foods etc. According to an inventory carried out in 2010, more than 1,300 consumer products contain these materials.

 

The only snag is that not much is known about the risks that these particles can pose to public health and the environment, due to the current technical means available to effectively measure their toxicity. Their extreme mobility makes this even more problematic.

 

They can cross natural barriers in the body like the ones between blood and brain or placenta and fetus, and can penetrate vital organs. They can also, once incorporated into cosmetic products, breach the skin barrier and make their way into the bloodstream.

 

Consumer and environmental rights campaigners have long found this situation to be troublesome. In May certain organizations and unions (FGTB, the CSC, the CGSLB, Crioc and Inter-Environnement, among others) published an open letter calling on politicians to set up a nanomaterials registry. “It’s crucial to ensure their traceability and to respect the right that every citizen has to know which materials he is working with, buying and consuming, and how his choices affect society and the environment,” stated the letter.

 

It appears that they were heard. Belgium has decided not to wait for such a register to be created at the European level, but instead it followed the example of France, who launched its own registry at the turn of the year. By the 30th of June 930 French businesses had already declared 3,400 materials.

 

In concrete terms the new legislation will compel any person or company putting nanomaterials on the market to register and supply information about the substance itself (chemical identification, size etc.), the quantity placed on the market, how it will be used, the identity of companies to which the substance will be sold, and the brand or label under which it will be marketed.

 

Registrants will also have to give “All available information regarding the potential dangers represented by the materials and what exposure to these materials could lead to, as well as any details that can help evaluate the risk to human health.” Declarants will be expected to update this information every year.

 

It is worth noting that the obligation to declare that nanoparticles have been put on the market only applies to quantities higher than 100 grams. It does not apply to cosmetics, biocides (disinfectants, pesticides etc.), medicine and foodstuffs, which are covered by specific European regulations.

 

Public authorities hope that thanks to this registry they will be able to step in more quickly and more effectively in the event of a possible public health alert caused by a product containing nanomaterials. This will facilitate moves to remove a product from the market.

 

They are also keen on obtaining a better understanding of the market to bring about greater transparency and to boost public confidence in these materials.

 

In political, scientific and economic circles there is a general feeling that a situation where these promising nanomaterials could become demonized, just like GMOs must be avoided at all costs.

 

JEAN-FRANÇOIS MUNSTER

 

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