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Are Nanomaterials a Threat to the Environment?

by Alan Harten
November 13, 2008

The British Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) has warned, in a study, of possible side-effects of nanomaterials.

The organization urges more research into the possible pollution effects in this area as well as stricter regulations for accreditation.

Initially the report, “Novel Materials in the Environment: The case of nanotechnology”, gives a positive conclusion.

The RCEP found no evidence of damage to health and the environment from nanomaterials.

However, the organization warns that there is not enough known about the risks that nanomaterials may hold within the world’s more than 600 products produced with this technology.

The development and use of these substances is moving so fast that it is not possible, with existing tests, to search out many of the possible effects on the environment.

Therefore allowing nanomaterials onto the market without having the ability to test for levels of safety carries high risks.

The report goes on to say that they are less concerned about the particle size, or the production of a material, but much more about its functioning.

The problem was that many of the nanomaterials are made from materials such as carbon or silver.

However, these substances behave differently when used on such a minute scale as opposed to when used in regular manufacturing processes.

The properties of carbon nanoparticles differed substantially from those of graphite, and they have a very different toxicity than in the major metallic form.

There is great need for more research and testing with nanomaterials concludes the report, to ascertain its potential effects on the environment.

The RCEP therefore urged the introduction of legal measures, nationally and at European level, to bring about testing of these materials.

In Britain they consider that the responsible ministry, the Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), should be developing testing methods for products that contain nanomaterials.

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