UK Academies Decry Lack of Nanotech Safety Research
LONDON, Oct. 24, 2006 -- In a new report published today, the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering expressed serious concerns about the UK government's lack of progress in improving the understanding of the potential health and environmental impacts of free nanoparticles.
Despite the growing number of products on the market containing these manufactured, ultrasmall substances, the report says that "the government's approach to reducing the uncertainties around the health and environmental impacts of nanomaterials has not been effective. Its reluctance to commit adequate funding or set a timetable for achieving objectives is of serious concern."
Uncertainties about the potential effects of nanoparticles on human health and the environment were highlighted in 2004 in a government-commissioned report undertaken by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. Some materials in nanoparticulate form have special properties, different from those of the same material on a larger scale, which may create potential risks along with their benefits. The novel properties of nanoparticles are currently being exploited in products such as stain-resistant clothing, "anti-aging" creams and sunscreens.
Professor Ann Dowling, chair of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering working group on nanotechnologies, said, "The UK government was recognized internationally as having taken the lead in encouraging the responsible development of nanotechnologies when it commissioned our 2004 report. So it is disappointing that the lack of progress on our recommendations means that this early advantage has been lost.
"Our 2004 report showed that most nanotechnologies posed no new safety risks. They may lead to many exciting applications such as new ways of targeting drugs to specific parts of the body, more efficient and cheaper ways of generating solar energy and tiny sensors which could be used for health screening and environmental monitoring. However, we did recommend that the government instigate a program of research to better understand both the positive and negative effects of free nanoparticles -- one distinct type of nanotechnology. Unfortunately progress on this, so far, has been slow," she said.
"Reducing the uncertainties concerning these substances is a vital step in ensuring nanotechnologies are well-regulated technologies which inspire the confidence of both investors and the public. Notably the government's own regulators have concluded that they cannot determine whether current regulations are adequate until the knowledge gaps are addressed. The government must ensure that this research happens urgently or risk detrimental consequences both for society and the economy," Dowling said.
She said the academies' report welcomed the government's support of a variety of public engagement initiatives on nanotechnologies. "We recognise that incorporating the results of public engagement activities into policy is not straightforward, but we hope the government will build on what has been learnt so far, and develop mechanisms for ensuring that outputs from such activity is taken into account in policy making," Dowling said.
For more information, visit: www.royalsoc.ac.uk
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