The report of the “Mapping out Nano Risks” workshop held in Brussels in March is now available. There is a lot of good information in the report, put together by some well known names from recent debates over toxicology.
One of the key conclusions was the need to distinguish between nanotechnologies and, specifically, to distinguish between free and fixed nanoparticles(NPs). Carbon nanotubes embedded in a polymer matrix, for example, pose a far lesser health risk than a vial of freshly produced nanotubes. Fixed nanoparticles won’t go anywhere by accident, but free ones may.
The other conclusion of interest is that “the adverse effects of NPs cannot be predicted (or derived) from the known toxicity of bulk material.”. Obviously the toxicity of fullerenes is very different to that of a piece of graphite, which despite still being composed of carbon atoms is in a different form but while moving the size of particles of materials to the nanoscale gives us new and useful properties, it also raises new toxicological questions, some of which we are not yet sure how to test for or quantify. Another reason why this sort of study is so important.
One of the options considered buy the committee was “to decree a moratorium, which some experts to the workshop advocated for cosmetics, seems feasible only if partial, for targeted engineered nanomaterials, because nanotechnologies have already entered the market and their ubiquitous and horizontal nature makes them difficult to control”
In other words, the very small genie is already out of its tiny bottle.