UK Nanotechnology Strategy

The UK Nanotechnologies Strategy was published on 18th March 2010.  It outlines the strategy of the current government, so things may change after May 6th – we’ll have to wait and see!

The potential health risks from nanoparticles are one of the “emerging issues” that occupational hygienists and health and safety professionals in general need to keep abreast of. Nanotechnology is a fast developing field and the toxicological implications are not fully understood.  Governments see nanotechnology as an important emerging technology that can lead to economic benefits and is encouraging its development. It’s important that sufficient emphasis is given to research into the health implications.

One of the strategic aims set out in the strategy document is a commitment to

“Better understanding of the risks associated with the use of, and exposure to, nanomaterials, and enough people with the right skills to assess them. “
In respect to this aim the document sets out the following actions
  • Approaches to Government EHS research on nanotechnologies will be explored by the Chief Scientific Adviser network, with the aim of improving co-ordination. A meeting will be chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, John Beddington.
  • There will be an ongoing portfolio of Government and publically funded research into a wide range of crucial EHS nanotechnologies issues including the behaviour of key nanomaterials in the gut when eaten and when inhaled into the lungs.
  • Contributions will be made to international work programmes on nanotechnologies including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Nanotechnology Working Parties and the EU’s Framework Programme. The UK will work to influence the future scope of these projects.
All commendable, but rather vague
One of the problems is that its only possible to see an effect once exposure has occurred so there is a dilemma – how can we detect effects in humans without exposing them to possible dangers? Animal experiments present difficulties both in terms of transferability of the findings to humans and the ethical implications.

Until stronger evidence is available the only sensible approach is to be cautious and apply a high degree of control. Nano-particles may or may not have serious health effects – we don’t know – but if we treat them as if they do and design our control strategies similar to those for carcinogens and sensitisers, then we should ensure that worker health risks are minimised.

See also https://diamondenv.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/nanoparticles/

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