European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Nanotechnologies

Nanotechnologies – techniques for manipulating matter at the atomic level – have been described as a more far-reaching technological revolution than computing. In close coordination with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the ETUI is running a research programme on nanotechnologies aimed at collecting information on the use of nanomaterials, assessing their potential impact on workers’ health and stepping into the debate on public regulation of the emerging risk of this major technological innovation.

By enabling materials with ‘miraculous’ properties to be created, these technologies open a door onto an unexplored world - that of the infinitely small. They also are more concerning because they use materials the size of a billionth of a metre, and at that size materials assume physical and chemical properties whose impacts on man and his environment we simply do not know.

And this is where the nanotechnology paradox lies: while scientists confess to knowing very little about the dangers of nanomaterials, they are already being used in a wide variety of everyday products. Industry has a clear lead on the law. As yet, there is no robust legislative safety net for consumers and workers.

In close coordination with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the ETUI is running a research programme on nanotechnologies aimed at collecting information on the use of nanomaterials, assessing their potential impact on workers’ health and stepping into the debate on public regulation of the emerging risk of this major technological innovation.

Mindful of the health, environmental and ethical issues raised by the spread of nanotechnologies, the ETUI is involved in a range of initiatives to make workers' voices heard at a time when these technologies of the infinitely small are developing outside of any democratic control.

Since 2008, the ETUI has organized a series of meetings to inform trade unions and involve them in work by European experts in the field. One big issue of these technical discussions is that of the definition of the term "nanotechnologies", and the adoption of international standards on the matter. Importantly, the ETUI advises the ETUC in its work on nanotechnologies, including through its input to developing two ETUC resolutions adopted in 2008 and 2010, and the and the concept of a regulatory definition of a substance in the nanoform adopted in 2010.

The ETUI is also a partner in the EU-funded FP7 NanoDiode project involving different types of research institutions, consultancies and industry. Through the project, the ETUI has developed awareness-raising tools on worker health and safety protection from nanomaterials. More information on the project and details on the tools can be found on our special nanodiode project page.