Friends of the Earth called for moratorium of nano-products

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Freinds of the Earth (FoE), a group of environmental activist organisation called for moratorium of nanomaterials containing products. Green Left news site quoted FoE spokesman as saying that ''Some of the biggest names in cosmetics, including L'Or‚al, Revlon and Est‚e Lauder, as well as many lesser known brands, are rapidly introducing nanomaterials into their products and onto the faces and hands of millions of people, despite a growing body of evidence indicating nanomaterials can be toxic to humans''.

The UK's Royal Society had recommended two years ago to perform a safety testing before launching it as consumer products. FoE said that some cosmetics manufacturers claim that the risks of toxic effects are reduced because their products do not penetrate the outer layers of dead skin. However, it stresses that no-one knows if this claim is accurate as the necessary scientific testing has not been done.

A recent news from businesswire suggested that real risks of nanomaterials present challenges due to a lack of data, the complexity of the materials, measurement difficulties, and undeveloped hazard assessment frameworks. It noted that only 316 peer-reviewed journal articles on real risks of engineered nanomaterials have been published and consequently giving firms little scientific guidance to go on. The article cited Lux Research as saying that in order to mitigate real risks, firms would need a process plan to: 1) inventory all nanomaterials used across the company, 2) map those materials to applications and thus to potential exposures across the product life cycle, 3) characterize the risk of each application based on exposure and available knowledge about hazard, and 4) mitigate risk through exposure controls, additional testing, and product redesign.

An FoE latest report "nanotoxicity and health issue" said that over 720 products containing nanomaterials are being released for public consumption without adequate safety testing. It stresses that nanoproducts are currently in a regulatory vaccuum as there are no laws that monitors it. The FoE report cited that on the current toxicology literature nanomaterials pose greater threat toward toxicity compared to larger material. It cited that carbon nanotubes and some fullerenes may inhibit cell growth and intoxicate kidneys or liver cells. One of the important part of its citation is that nanoparticles can be easily absorbed by cell's nucleus and mythocondria. Nanoparticles penetrate so deeply and cleared so poorly, they said. This behavior may result in the impairment of the lung. The report also cited the US NSF that in 2011, there will be over than 2 million workers directly involved in Nanotech production.

In my opinion, a moratorium could halt entirely the currently developing nanotech industry. Moreover, the "object" of the moratorium is not clear, would that refer to products containing nanoparticles, nanomaterial products, nanoscale technologies (such as nano scale silicon guitar, MEMS, NEMS, etc) or anything that relates to nanotechnology. It is important to note that the nomenclature for "nanotech" is not yet clear. Drugs are essentially nanoparticles, but they are OK for the body. Moreover, there are reports that shows nanomaterials can be easily excreted from body.

So, I would recommend the following (1) product focused regulation, (2) nano labelling, (3) obligatory premarket testing, (4) producer-retain-liability principle.

(1) Means the distinction between nano products, which one are harmful, which one are not. (2) Means the labelling of products containing nanomaterials with "nano-inside". (3) Is the obligation for producer to pre test nano-containing products before it enters the market. (4) In case there are liability arising out of nanoproducts, the company should be held responsible.

This recommendation is not without difficulty as (i) there are no standard to measure what premarket test is deemed "enough" and (ii) insurance companies may encounter difficulty in including the nano producer in its insurance policy as the side effect of nanoproducts is so far unforseeable.