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article imageFrance toughens laws on nanomaterials in consumer products

By Robert Myles     Jan 10, 2013 in Science
Nanomaterials, the result of nanotechnology, using extremely small objects, are becoming common in everyday life but the unseen use of nanomaterials in goods from cosmetics to paint is causing concern that there is little research into their effects.
In France, from January 1, 2013, the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy has made it obligatory for all manufacturers, distributors or importers to declare the use of substances in the nanoparticle state (nanomaterials) and the annual quantities produced, imported and distributed in France.
Nanomaterials are defined as materials making use of tiny nanoparticles, particles which are smaller than 100 nanometres in at least one direction. A nanometre is equal to one billionth of a metre. Put another way it is one millionth of a millimetre. Nanomaterials are increasingly being used in a range of industrial processes and more and more nanomaterials are becoming features of the consumer marketplace in areas like healthcare, electronics and cosmetics. Nanomaterials can often be found in products as diverse as anti-odour socks, sports clothing anti anti-bacterial food packaging.
The decision by the French government follows recommendations made by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). The European study highlighted the potential effects nanomaterials could have on health and the environment generally. The European report said there was some evidence of nanoparticles interacting with biological systems affecting the formation of fibrous protein tangles similar to those seen particularly with diseases of the brain. They also reported that airborne nanoparticles might affect the lungs and cause heart and circulatory problems.
On the environment, the EU report highlights that little is yet known of the effects wider use of nanomaterials will have, and refers to how nanomaterials might interact with air, water, soil and organic matter, emerging into the food chain. Experiments to date have revealed possible harmful effects on the reproductive and development cycles of invertebrates and fish. According to a report on 20minutes, nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, for example, which is used in both cements in sunscreens, were considered to disrupt brain function in a study by the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA).
The new register of nanomaterials put in place by the French Ecology Ministry is but a first step in the assessment of the impact of nanomaterials and their regulation. It is very much a case of the regulators playing catch-up with the science. The Ecology Ministry claims that having a register will establish traceability chains and enable a better understanding of what nanomaterials are coming into everyday use and the volumes being used in manufacturing processes.
Once sufficient data has been collected, France’s governmental food and health body, the Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire, de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses) will be charged with researching the data and providing guidelines for further research on potential risks and preventative measures. The first public report on the use of nanomaterials is expected towards the end of 2013. Thereafter, the French government will look at the possibility of establishing clear consumer labelling for goods and products using nanomaterials and the prohibition of the use of nanomaterials in certain instances where the benefits of their use are outweighed by potential risks to the public.
More about nanomaterials, Nanoparticles, Nanotechnology, Environmental laws, french law
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