The European Commission (EC) has adopted a recommendation defining “nanomaterials” as materials “whose main constituents have a dimension of between 1 and 100 billionth of a meter.” According to an October 18, 2011, press release, this definition considers only “the size of the constituent particles of a material, rather than hazard or risk.” As such, it describes nanomaterials as “a natural, incidental or manufactured material containing particles, in an unbound state or as an aggregate or as an agglomerate and where, for 50% or more of the particles in the number size distribution, one or more external dimensions is in the size range 1 nm – 100 nm.”

The definition apparently relies on input from the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC), whose draft recommendations were covered in Issue 355 of this Update. The EC hopes that the adopted version clearly defines “which materials need special treatment in specific legislation” and “brings coherence to the variety of definitions that are currently in use in different sectors.” The commission also plans to review the definition in 2014 “in the light of technical and scientific progress.”

“I am happy to say that the EU is the first to come forward with a cross-cutting designation of nanomaterials to be used for all regulatory purposes,” said European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik in describing the consultation process. “Industry needs a clear coherent regulatory framework in this important economic sector, and consumers deserve accurate information about these substances. It is an important step towards addressing any possible risks for the environment and human health, while ensuring that this new technology can live up to its potential.”