Nanomaterials are used in a range of products, from food packaging to clothing and sunscreen. However, as the technology develops and their range of uses increases nanomaterials are being more carefully scrutinised from a regulatory perspective in various jurisdictions around the world.
In various countries governments are looking closely at the unique properties of nanomaterials and gathering data on their potential toxicity and their impacts on exposure scenarios. For example, in the US and Denmark regulators are trying to develop techniques to detect and categorise nanomaterial.
In several European Member States are planning to introduce or have already introduced their own national legislation to regulate nanomaterials. This is despite the European Commission's recommendation in October 2012 that the existing REACH framework sets the best possible framework for the risk management of nanomaterials (albeit with some modifications to introduce specific requirements for nanomaterials).
Legislation in France came into force on 1 January 2013 introducing a reporting system for nanomaterials. Denmark, Belgium and Sweden have also reportedly announced that they intend to require companies to report information about their use of nanomaterials.
At a European level too there has been further scrutiny as the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Council of Europe issued a draft report on nanotechnology called "balancing the benefits and risks to public health and the environment."
The draft report notes that regulations have "struggled to keep up with the pace of scientific innovation in the field of nanotechnology" and states that Member States are either using existing legislation which "leaves wide gaps" or adding in new legislation to try to close these gaps. It states that this has resulted in a "multitude of regulations" that apply to nanotechnology across the EU. It also complains that there is far too little communication between different stakeholders and "even less effort at harmonisation". The draft report says "the result is a cacophony, and a current legislative environment which either tends to stifle innovation or is short on risk control."
In response to these challenges the draft report calls for a "common standard to properly balance potential risks and benefits of nanotechnology by harmonising the legislative base with the precautionary principle in mind." The report recommends that the Council of Europe (as the only pan-European body with a human rights protection mandate) is well placed to produce guidelines on nanotechnology based on the precautionary principle to address these challenges.
The European Commission confirmed in its REACH review published on 5 February 2013 that it would make an impact assessment of the relevant regulatory options regarding nanomaterials. In particular, possible amendments of REACH Annexes "to ensure further clarity on how nanomaterials are addressed and safety demonstrated in registration dossiers." If required, any changes to REACH could happen relatively quickly as the Commission has confirmed that if appropriate, it will come forward with a draft implementing act by December 2013.
With the scrutiny of nanomaterials set to continue we can expect changes to the regulatory environment within the EU as policy makers at both an EU level and a national level attempt to keep pace with the technological developments in the field of nanomaterials.