Nanotechnologies hold the key to major advances, breakthroughs and solutions to a number of global challenges. With so much potential, the effective market deployment and responsible management of these technologies is a must.
Nanotechnologies – essential to meet societal challenges
Nanotechnology is engineering at the smallest scale, to produce nanomaterials. The tiny scale of these materials gives them specific or improved properties that can be harnessed in many different applications, for example to add strength or electrical conductivity.
Through improvements in efficiency and functionality, nanotechnologies bring tangible benefits to society, for example in the fields of solar energy, energy storage, water treatment, mobility, information and communication technology (ICT) and healthcare. They are already used as a key enabling technology for innovative products and processes in many sectors ranging from automotive to construction, electronics and medicine.
Nanotechnologies contribute to building a sustainable basis for competitiveness, growth and quality of life in Europe. Their development represents a big potential for European business. It is estimated that by 2015 about two million nanotechnology workers will be needed worldwide, of which 300,000 to 400,000 in Europe.
Ensuring that nanomaterials are produced, used and disposed of in a safe and sustainable way is essential to ensure their contribution to societal benefits. The European chemical industry sees the existing risk assessment paradigm and regulatory framework as a solid basis for this.
The EU’s REACH regulation has been put in place to ensure chemicals safety. Nanomaterials are chemical substances – so chemicals legislation applies to them. Under REACH, manufacturers, importers and downstream users have to ensure that the substances they manufacture, put on the market or use do not adversely affect human health or the environment.
The European Commission’s second regulatory review published on 3 October 2012 concluded that the current regulatory framework, including REACH, is appropriate to cover nanomaterials. In 2011, an extensive evaluation of existing REACH guidance and several hundred scientific reports confirmed that the REACH guidance is applicable to nanomaterials with only few amendments needed. These have now been integrated into ECHA guidance.
Advancing international standards and research
The chemical industry sees harmonised and standardised methods as the best way to identify the potential risks of nanomaterials placed on the market and ensure the safe handling and use of these materials in their applications according to the current regulatory framework.
Cefic participates in setting harmonised standards and methods by contributing to the work of international bodies, such as:
- the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD,
- the International Organization for Standardization ISO,
- the European Committee for Standardization CEN
- the EU.
Cefic also sponsors research on the safety of nanomaterials through its Long-range Research Initiative (LRI).
Engaging with stakeholders
The European chemical industry engages in active dialogue with its stakeholders on nanomaterials and nanotechnologies. Cefic also works closely with other sectors to promote open communication across the value chain, for example through coordinating a Cross-Industry on Nanomaterials at the European level.
This commitment is part of the global chemical industry’s Responsible Care initiative. Cefic also contributes to raising awareness on nanomaterials at the global level as part of the United Nations’ Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) policy framework, together with the International Council of Chemical Associations.
Transparency on nanomaterials is key to demonstrate their benefit to society and the way to handle them in a safe way. Industry sectors involved in the production and use of nanomaterials have provided factsheets and brochures, detailing their applications and safety assessments:
Download the nano fact sheet on Zinc Oxide
Download the nano fact sheet on multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT)
Download the nano fact sheet on Titanium dioxide