Nanomaterials are already applied to numerous products today in order to equip them with additional properties.
The use of silver ions is widespread in consumer products such as cosmetics, food and textiles due to their antimicrobial properties.
Despite the benefits of nanomaterials (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are used as UV filters in sunscreen, for example, and are said to have a high level of efficacy) there is continuing debate over whether they could pose health risks to consumers.
The EU required that from 2013, the use of nanomaterials in cosmetics must be declared.
Industry ways in on amendment
“When it amends the REACH Regulation, it is important that the EU considers which provisions can be used to give greater account to nanomaterials than has been the case in the past,” says Andreas Hermann, researcher at the Öko-Institut.
“Manufacturers and importers of nanomaterials should be obliged to disclose differentiated information about them and to transmit this information to downstream users,” he adds.
The Institut recommends adjusting the registration and testing requirements established by the European Union’s chemicals regulations – REACH and CLP – to do justice to the special characteristics of nanomaterials.
A weakness in the system?
According to Hermann, one weakness of REACH in its present form is that manufacturers and importers are only obliged to identify the risks posed by nanomaterials to human health and the environment if they put more than ten tonnes of a nanoscale substance on the market per year.
Many of the nanomaterials circulating today do not reach these tonnage thresholds. However, due to their size they find many applications, which favours their widespread dispersal.
At present, such risk-related information on nanomaterials is either not gathered at all, or is stated together with the analogous bulk form of the same substance without differentiating sufficiently between the two.
“This is a mistake,” warns Andreas Hermann, “for while nanomaterials have the same chemistry as the ‘analogous bulk material’, their size means that their properties and behaviour can differ substantially.”