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Nanotechnology and its implications for environmental legislation

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Source: Greentech info

The major problem for environmental legislation arising from nanotechnology is the size of nano-particles. Nano, meaning dwarf, is measured in nanometers or billionths of a meter. One way of contamination is penetration through human skin.

Since nanoparticles are so small, they have a very large surface area as compared with the amount of their interior. Inside, the contents are stable, but those on the surface can react with other substances more easily than substances of larger size. The implications for legislation is that there are so many kinds of nano materials. Legislators who want to extend say REACH, to encompass nanomaterials, face an array of difficulties.

How to outlaw
Nanomaterials have been around for ever. In recent years, accomplishments in engineering and testing technology have turned the spotlight on nanomaterials for quite a few reasons. Today, a number of new kinds of nanomaterial have been developed. This makes legislation difficult as regards how to define what exactly is nano-material and what is not.

As the technology to measure these small particles has been refined, more detections have been made in the field of nanotechnology. But what has been found raises the expectations about that nano-technology cam increase energy efficiency and improve technology in a number of products, for example in electronics manufacturing.

But if nanomaterials have been around for ever, can we outlaw them? Of course not, and this is where the legislators face their problem.

Implications for legislation
Risk assessment is difficult for a substance where data is lacking. Nanomaterial in articles will in many cases not be covered by the chemical safety assessment carried out within the scope of REACH. Regulatory frameworks in the EU and elsewhere with rules for nanomaterials will have to be elaborated. As will have to be the way companies test the health and environmental hazards arising from exposure to nanomaterials.

The EU commission now tries to make heads or tails of many problems related to nanomaterials. All seem to agree that regulation is needed, as part of say REACH or on its own. But nothing else has been decided upon, like whether it should be compulsory (with possible sanctions for those who do not comply) or voluntary.

Human invention and technological development have increased the number of ways in which we can use nanotechnology. This raises cause for concern about the toxicity or environmental properties of nano technology and its outcomes.

The other side of the coin is that people hope to further development in areas like technology, medicine and environment by the use of nanotechnology. Yes, not only are we hoping to make money by expanding data storage limitations. We may also save lives, health and the environment if we use it in the right way.

Warning calls are heard from environment agencies and scientists worldwide. More research is needed, they claim. Others are more convinced of the success of nano-based technology and doubting its drawbacks. In the end, there will be both evidence of damage caused by nanomaterials and proven gains by the emerging technology. Let us hope that we get at least those things right.

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