London meeting reviews British nano policies

By Brian Dance, Small Times contributing writer

November 26, 2007 — A report reviewing the British government’s progress on nanotechnologies and the data needs for addressing risks they may pose, was the subject of discussion during an October 19 policy meeting in London. The meeting was organized by Defra (Great Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and ENTA (European Nanotechnology Trade Alliance).

Speaking at the meeting, Steve Morgan of the Chemicals and Nanotechnologies Division of Defra said that the report — prepared by the Council for Science and Technology (CST, an independent science advisory group to the UK government) and published in March 2007 — recommends the coordination of policies, including greater strategic cross-government action, with more departmental funding ring-fenced for research into health, safety and environmental impacts, and technology. The CST review further recommends that the government should continue its engagement with international organizations, promoting coordinated activity and collaborative research.

The UK government is also currently reviewing the role and objectives of the Nanotechnologies Stakeholders Forum, exploring ways in which the forum might better serve the needs of its membership. The government and its European Union (EU) partners will undertake research to enable the existing regulations to be applied effectively, with regulatory gaps addressed.

A Nanotechnologies Research Co-ordination Group (NRCG), chaired by Defra, works to ensure that the research effort is effectively coordinated across government. The NRCG is becoming more directly involved in the co-ordination of funding strategies for research and has recently expanded its membership to include industry representatives and more social and independent scientists in its taskforces.

In September 2006, the UK government launched a two-year Voluntary Reporting Scheme (VRS), with submissions invited from industry and academia on engineered nanoscale materials to help improve understanding of hazard and exposure pathways, both in the occupational setting and in the environment. This scheme aims to contribute to the process of gathering evidence on the potential health and environmental impacts of nanomaterials. There are uncertainties about the risks of nanoparticles currently in production that need to be addressed immediately to safeguard workers, consumers and the environment and to support regulatory decisions that may be necessary. However, Del Stark, chief executive officer of ENTA, told Small Times that ENTA believes that we know more than we realize, so ENTA supports the development of a database for negative toxicological test results. He said ENTA supports all actions to develop nanotechnology responsibly and in a safe manner.

During the meeting, Defra representative John Garrod reported on the work of the five task forces set up by the NRCG under its terms of reference in response to the concerns noted above:

Task Force 1 (covering metrology, characterization and standards): A REFNANO (Reference materials for engineered Nanoparticle toxicology and metrology) project, led by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, has been completed. The materials suggested for priority consideration are: carbon black, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, silver, single and multi-walled carbon nanotubes, polystyrene, metals, metal oxides and combustion products. The characteristics to be determined for individual reference materials would most likely comprise a selection from absolute length, specific surface area, particle numbers per unit mass, concentration of bulk or other surface contaminants and polymorphic composition.

Task Force 2 (covering exposure issues, occupational and environmental): The Health and Safety Executive has set up a NanoAlert helpdesk, which is an information bulletin service reviewing studies and health effects in occupational settings. Nanoparticle Occupational Safety and Health Consortium (NOSH) is an industry led project (DuPont) looking at issues related to exposure to nanoparticles in the workplace. A Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) monitoring program in UK universities will, among other objectives, look at problems of identification of manufactured materials over the background levels of nanoparticles in the environment.

Task Force 3 (dealing with human health hazard and risk assessment): determining the characteristics of nanomaterials that confer toxicity, including investigating the value of inhalation studies and the uptake, distribution and excretion of nanoparticles within and from the body. The Task Force is also looking at the potential role for in vitro methods for the investigation of nanomaterial hazards and the properties that control the ability of nanoparticles to penetrate cells in the respiratory epithelium.

Task Force 4 (covers environmental hazard and risk assessment): is working with the development of the Environmental Nanoscience Initiative (ENI), which is a joint venture between the Natural Environment Research Council, the Environment Agency and Defra. The ENI has now made 18 small grants in the areas of fate, behavior and effects of nanomaterials in the environment. This is mainly a capacity building exercise to develop the research base for this type of work in the UK.

Task Force 5 is for the social and economic dimensions of nanotechnologies.

Findings from extensive public engagement exercises have shown that the attitudes of the population to nanotechnology are similar to those for any new technology, namely generally positive, with strong support for fundamental science to provide answers. However, there are concerns about the lack of knowledge about the human health and environmental risks. These findings are summarized in the reports of the Nanodialogues project and of the Nanotechnology Engagement Group.

Christian Inglis, Advanced Materials Technologist at the Technology Strategy Board, told the meeting participants that The Technology Strategy Board, which was established by the government in 2004, became operational in July 2007 and is responsible for innovation funding. It promotes and supports R&D and the exploitation of science and technology for business benefit and quality of life. It will deliver a program of financial support to encourage business investment by world leading companies in all sectors of technology, providing leadership and advice to government departments and the research councils. It has a budget of some GBP 200 million (~$410 million) this year and about 75 staff. Following the Comprehensive Spending Review by Lord Sainsbury announced in October 2007, the Technology Strategy Board budget has been increased to a potential GBP 1 billion (~$2 billion) over the next 3 years inclusive of recommendations for potential joint funding with Regional Development Agencies and Research Councils. The underpinning key technology areas are advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, bioscience, electronics, photonics and electrical technologies, and information and communication technologies.

The Micro- and Nanotechnology Network (MNT) is underpinning a number of Technology Strategy Board Key Technology sectors, with funding of GBP 90 million (USD 185 million) over 6 years announced in July 2003. This is broken down into two areas: first, a capital facilities program covering materials, manufacture, medicine, and metrology, jointly with other funding bodies and industry; and second, a program of collaborative R&D resulting in some 50 projects funded by the Technology Strategy Board and matched by industry R&D funding. A Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network is also in the process of being formed.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has a Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) with six projects, each overseen by a steering group. Addressing the meeting participants again, John Garrod gave details of these project groups:

SG1: Database on Environment Health and Safety (EHS) research to be launched in February 2008.

SG2: EHS Research strategies on manufactured nanomaterials.

SG3: Safety testing of a representative set of manufactured nanomaterials (14 materials provisionally agreed) with a sub-group to pursue in vitro methods.

SG4: Manufactured nanomaterials and test guidelines (closely linked with SG3).

SG5: Co-operation on voluntary schemes and regulatory programs providing details on exposure measurement and mitigation.

SG6: Co-operation on risk assessment for manufactured nanomaterials. A research project related to this objective has recently been let by Defra to Cranfield University.

The EU Framework 7 (FP7) research program has a 3.5 billion Euro ($ 5.1 billion) funding for nanotechnology for the period 2007 through 2013. The first call proposals are undergoing final assessment, with a second call in December 2007.


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account. Comments won't automatically be posted to your social media accounts unless you select to share.