April 13, 2003

Size Matters!

ETC Group: New information provides more evidence for mandatory moratorium on synthetic nanoparticles

The ETC Group today (14.04.2003)  releases a new Occasional Paper, "No Small Matter II: The Case for a Global Moratorium - Size Matters!" The report calls on governments to adopt a moratorium on synthetic nanomaterials that are being manufactured in the laboratory and in some cases commercialized, in the absence of testing for health, safety and environmental impacts.  

"Even though industry is scaling up the manufacture of nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes there appear to be no government regulations in Europe or North America to ensure the safety of workers or consumers," says Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group researcher. "A few national governments are beginning to consider some aspects of nanotech regulation but no government is giving full consideration to the socioeconomic, environmental, and health implications of this powerful new industry," notes Wetter. The ETC Group reports that nanoparticles are already available to consumers in sunscreens (including some intended for children, from infancy onwards) and cosmetics, among other products.  However, regulators do not test nano-sized materials for health, safety and environmental impacts if their macro- or micro-sized counterparts have already been approved. 

"In light of this astonishing negligence," says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group, "and because consumers are already being exposed to synthetic nanoparticles, the call for a mandatory moratorium is the only reasonable policy response."

Atomtech (or nanotech, as the industry prefers to call it) refers to the manipulation of matter on the scale of the nanometer, where atoms and molecules are measured in billionths of meters. Ordinary materials such as carbon, when reduced to the nanoscale, often exhibit novel and unpredictable traits such as extraordinary strength, chemical reactivity, electrical conductivity, or other characteristics that the same material does not possess at the micro or macro-scale. Companies are already producing tons of nano-scale particles (pure elements, simple compounds and composites) for use in bulk sprays, powders and coatings. Today, nanoparticles are used in the manufacture of transparent sunscreens and cosmetics, scratch-resistant eyeglasses, stain-repellant fabrics, anti-graffiti coatings for walls, and more. Some of the materials are familiar compounds that have not previously been marketed on the nanoscale. Other synthetic forms of nano-scale carbon - such as nanotubes- are being manufactured for the first time and two recent studies indicate that they can cause damage to lung tissue in mice.

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