Expert Panel Concludes there is not Enough Information to Assess the Safety of Nanomaterials



    OTTAWA, July 10 /CNW Telbec/ - An expert panel appointed by the Council
of Canadian Academies has concluded that too little is known to assess the
overall human and environmental risks posed by the introduction nanomaterials
and nanoproducts into society. However, the panel did not identify any
evidence that nanoproducts currently on the market in Canada present risks
that cannot be addressed through available risk management strategies.
    "The panel sought to assemble the existing science, and understand what
it implies about the hazards presented by nanomaterials, what risks they
present to human health and our environment, and how we can best manage these
risks given the current uncertainties and key gaps in knowledge," said
University of of Toronto professor Pekka Sinervo, chair of the expert panel.
    The report, requested by Health Canada (in consultation with several
other federal agencies), was prepared by a panel of 15 experts who are engaged
in the creation and application of nanomaterials, assessment of the risks they
may present, and public policy issues related to health and environmental
regulation. The report was in response to the question, "What is the state of
knowledge with respect to existing nanomaterial properties and their health
and environmental risks, which could underpin regulatory perspectives on needs
for research, risk assessment and surveillance?"

    What are nanomaterials?

    Nanomaterials may be defined as materials having one or more dimensions
on the nanoscale - i.e., between 1 and 100 nanometres (nm). A nanometre is one
millionth of a millimetre - approximately 100,000 times smaller than the
diameter of a human hair. A red blood cell is approximately 7,000 nm in
diameter.
    As the particle size of certain materials is reduced to the nanoscale,
they can exhibit novel and useful properties. Gold, for example, in its bulk
form, is inert and resistant to oxidation, but nanoscale gold exhibits a
remarkable ability to oxidize carbon monoxide - making it a novel candidate
for use in car exhaust systems. A second example - titanium dioxide particles,
well above the nanoscale, are responsible for the intense whiteness of many
paints and toothpastes whereas the addition of nanoscale titanium dioxide to
sunscreens results in their translucence once they are applied to the skin.
This difference between nanomaterial properties and their bulk properties is
what can make nanomaterials very useful, but these often surprising
differences may also result in unanticipated behaviours in biological and
environmental systems.
    As of April 2008, there were over 600 nanotechnology-based consumer
products including: sunscreens, anti-stain coatings on fabrics, antimicrobial
features in washing machines and refrigerators various medical and electronic
applications, among others.
    The sheer diversity of possible nanomaterials, when combined with their
unpredictable biological and environmental properties, makes it very
challenging to assess the risks of nanomaterials and thus to design regulation
to help manage possible risks. The report concluded that to date, there has
been no identification of unique biological effects associated with exposure
to nanomaterials, but there is still a poor understanding of the pathways by
which these effects may occur.

    The Canadian Regulatory Approach

    The current risk assessment strategies that are used in health and
environmental regulations in Canada comprise four steps: hazard
identification, hazard characterization, exposure assessment and risk
characterization. The application of these to nanomaterials will require new
ways for measuring exposure, dose and response. The report concludes that
there are, at present, inadequate data to inform quantitative risk assessments
on nanomaterials. At most, only qualitative risk assessments are feasible.
Moreover, changes in the potential for nanomaterials to cause harm at
different stages - from production, through usage, to final disposal - implies
the need for a full, life-cycle approach to risk assessment.
    Uncertainties associated with risk assessment and risk management are
typical in the introduction of new technologies and are not unique to
nanomaterials. Such uncertainties have been managed within Canadian regulatory
systems by taking a precautionary approach - giving priority to ensuring the
safety of health and the environment. Since it is not possible, at present, to
implement a robust and reliable "science-based" regulatory approach to
nanoproducts, it is important that appropriate precautionary measures guide
the scientific assessment of the risks and the selection of standards of
safety. In so doing, a wide spectrum of stakeholders should be involved in
determining the desired level of precaution when regulating the introduction
of new nanomaterials and products to the market. The report finds that an
adaptive management approach will be needed so that, as scientific research
fills in our knowledge gaps, the decisions respecting the precautionary
measures applied to nanoproducts can be revised.

    Filling in the "Knowledge Gaps"

    
    While the panel was not asked to make specific recommendations, it
identified the following as key steps towards filling in existing knowledge
gaps.

    - International efforts are currently underway to develop standardized
      definitions and nomenclatures for nanomaterials but the process may
      take upwards of 10 years to complete. In the meantime, interim
      terminology and classification are needed to help regulators oversee
      this emerging group of materials and products.
    - In conjunction with classification, new tools and standards are needed
      to ensure that the exposure of both the public and workers to
      nanomaterials is consistently and reliably monitored.
    - Current regulatory triggers (based on the amount and chemical structure
      of materials) will need to be revised in order to identify those
      nanomaterials entering the market that may require regulatory
      oversight.
    - The diversity in both material type and usage of nanomaterials, the
      magnitude of scientific research that is needed, and the increasing
      presence of  traded products that contain nanomaterials, will require
      governments to work collaboratively both within Canada and
      internationally.
    

    Research is needed to identify the properties of a nanomaterial that
enable it to elicit an adverse biological response and, in light of this, to
identify appropriate regulatory responses regarding nanomaterial exposure.
    "The panel's report builds on the work underway internationally to better
understand the benefits and risks presented by engineered nanomaterials," said
Dr. Sinervo. "I believe that this report will be a valuable and unique
contribution, given its focus on what science tells us about the risks
associated with these unusual materials and how we can manage these risks
responsibly."
    The complete findings of the expert panel have been conveyed to the
federal government and are available on the Council's website,
www.scienceadvice.ca.

    About the Council of Canadian Academies

    The primary mission of the Council of Canadian Academies is to provide
independent, expert assessments of the science that is relevant to matters of
significant public interest with the goal of informing public debate and
decision making. The Council, which became operational in 2006, is supported
by a founding grant from the Government of Canada but is independent from
government. Its reports are prepared by panels of experts appointed by the
Council having regard to broad inclusion of relevant expertise and balance
among viewpoints. Panelists serve voluntarily without fees or honoraria. They
serve in their personal capacities as expert authorities and not as
representatives of stakeholder interests. Public input to panel studies is
solicited via the Council's website, complemented by submissions that may be
specifically requested by the panel. All panel reports are thoroughly reviewed
by a group of peers selected by the Council. Expert panel reports are made
public in both official languages.
    The members of the Council of Canadian Academies are the RSC: The
Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada; the Canadian Academy of
Engineering; and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. To learn more about
the Council of Canadian Academies or to download Council reports, visit
www.scienceadvice.ca.




For further information:

For further information: Samantha Rae, Council of Canadian Academies,
Communications Manager, (613) 567-5000 ext 256, samantha.rae@scienceadvice.ca

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