Safety of Nanomaterials
Nanotechnology is doubtless one of the most important scientific developments in the last decade and offers advantages and benefits to manufacturers and consumers alike.
The properties and performance of this technology however are not fully understood at this stage and it is important that all applications of nanosciences and nanotechnologies must comply with a high level of public health, safety and environmental protection.
The Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) is at the heart of EU efforts towards a better understanding and assessment of nanotechnology and participates in various collaborative research projects with European and international partners. The results of this work on the safety of nanomaterials are fed into the database maintained by the Institute. The knowledge derived from this work is an important source of reference for the legislative process. It supports the future development and safe application of nanotechnology in an appropriate regulatory framework.
The Institute's activities in the area of safety of nanomaterials are essentially concerned with tasks to support policy implementation including the assessment of methods and strategies for testing the safety of nanomaterials' properties. The work is closely connected to the OECD Test Guidelines programme and the Working Parties for Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) and for Nanotechnology (WPN), where for WPMN the IHCP is performing number of key tasks to ensure coherence with European policy requirements and the international framework and Mutual acceptance of data agreement (MAD). The Institute also collaborates closely with CEN TC 352 and ISO TC 229 regarding Work Items related to characterisation and testing of nanomaterials. In addition, the work addresses issues arising from the requirements according to European policy, as laid down in regulation (EC) 1907/2006, for environment, cosmetics, consumer products and food and feed.
Complex effects of nanomaterials
The biological effects of some nanomaterial types have already been investigated in animals and humans, particularly those occurring naturally in the environment through combustion processes, where studies have focused on exposure via inhalation. These results highlight the complexity of assessing the safety of engineered nanomaterials. Chemicals in their nanoparticle form have properties that are completely different from their larger physical forms and may therefore interact differently with biological systems. The same material may have different toxicological properties dependent on the size of particles (even within the nano range). As a result, it is necessary to assess the risks arising from any nanoparticle that may potentially come in contact with humans, other species or the environment, even if the toxicology of the chemicals that make up the nanoparticle is well known. Other important variables relate to particle shape, chemical composition, surface reactivity, bio-persistence etc. Moreover, the method of exposure e.g. via inhalation, ingestion or skin contact, as well as the response and susceptibility of the cells exposed, are significant additional factors.
Effects on humans
The Institute has the capacity to synthesize nanomaterials of varying sizes and shapes as well as to culture standardised human cells in the laboratory. It is able to use this to investigate the effects of nanomaterials on human cells and proteins.
In particular, the Institute's specialised experimental facilities enable the production of radio-labelled nanoparticles for directly monitoring the uptake and fate of nanoparticles in cells. In addition, the Institute is developing automated testing platforms and processes to allow efficient and reliable screening of potentially hazardous nanomaterials.
Through this work the Institute is able to assess methods and strategies for testing the safety of nanomaterials' properties to health. The work builds on the Test Guidelines programme of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).