August 22, 2009 by Mark Crane

The UK government has started a wide ranging debate on its strategy for nanotechnologies. The aim of this is that the strategy will show a vision of the future that we all want and set out the ways in which the UK intends to achieve this. Once the government has our views they intend to work with the relevant stakeholders to develop and agree the actions that are needed and how, by whom and when they should be delivered.

Our recent experience with the REACH regulations and work for Defra assessing the challenges of characterising the environmental hazards of nanomaterials is reflected in the following comments on managing the risks and uncertainties of nanotechnologies that we recently added to this debate:

REACH is likely to be the primary route through which information on the sources, fate & behaviour, and effects of most nanomaterials will be generated in Europe. This is because industry investment in any such testing of nanomaterials under REACH will dwarf the government sponsorship of tests on environment, health and safety commissioned to date. However, current uncertainty about exactly how nanomaterials will be regulated under REACH is hampering progress in this area. Companies are unsure of how sameness tests will be applied by the European Chemicals Agency and Member State Competent Authorities and this means that in many cases it is unclear whether some widely used nanomaterials will need to be registered alongside ‘bulk’ substances in 2010, 2013 or 2018. Resolution of this issue and confirmation of when and how nanomaterials need to be registered is likely to unblock investment and allow test commissioning to proceed. A reasonable period, of at least two years, should be given to allow adequate planning, performance and reporting of these tests, because some of them will not be straightforward. Support from UK Government for a timely and evidence-based decision on nanomaterial registration deadlines by the Commission and Member States would be very welcome.