Successful research strategy for nanotechnology protects humans and the environment
Nanotechnology is universally hailed as the progressive technology of the 21st century. It is highly innovative and dynamic and opens up new possibilities for saving resources and energy. However, as is the case with all new technologies, its potential effects on the environment as well as consumer and worker health raises a number of questions. In order to be able to answer any open questions relating to nanomaterials and weigh up their opportunities and risks, the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) developed a research strategy as early as 2007. The Federal Physical-Technical Institute (PTB) and the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) are now additionally involved in the continuation and development of that research strategy. The first assessment, for which the state of over 80 research projects on the opportunities and risk aspects of nanotechnology was scrutinised in great detail, is now available. Areas where progress has been made notably include the development of measurement and testing procedures, the monitoring of potential exposure levels for humans and of contamination levels of the environment, and risk assessment.
With the joint research strategy, the involved federal authorities combine their resources to ensure that the innovative potential of new technologies is reconciled with the need for safety for humans and the environment. Through structured cooperation, the risks posed by new technologies are to be recognised and assessed at an early stage of development – as a basis for providing advice to politicians and developing practical solutions.
The public debate focuses on the potential risks of nanomaterials. The research strategy formulated by the federal authorities in 2007 listed unanswered research questions and set priorities. The emphasis was mainly on questions relating to the characterisation of nanomaterials with regard to their shape and composition, the recognition of harmful properties, and on methods to determine nanoparticles released from products. In addition, the research strategy described conditions under which risks associated with nanomaterials can be assessed and defined guidelines for successful risk management and related risk communication.
In the assessment which is now presented, the state and most important findings of 85 research projects are compiled which have been inspired or supervised by the joint research strategy. The results reveal the great complexity of the issues involved, but they also permit a first demarcation of risk factors. The intention is for future research to avoid extensive research on a number of individual nanomaterials while nevertheless being able to gain reliable insights into the protection of workers, consumers and the environment.
The first 125-page assessment of the joint research strategy by the department research facilities of the federal authorities entitled “Nanotechnology – Health and Environmental Risks of Nanomaterials” can be downloaded from the internet pages of the federal authorities or obtained via the pages of the BMU (Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Reactor Safety).
On 30 April 2013, this assessment will be presented to the public in the BMU in Berlin. Due to limited seats, it is necessary to register by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the BfR
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.