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27 June 2014

French Health Agency warns against nanomaterials

The effects of nanomaterials on humans are unknown, due to the lack of studies on the subject, warns the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety, ANSES. In mid-May, the organization published a report reviewing the available literature on the health and environmental impacts of manufactured nanomaterials. It recommends the European Union to step up its legislative framework in order to improve the traceability of all nanomaterials to be incorporated into consumer products.

The report points out that there is at present, due to the lack of epidemiological studies, no relevant information about the toxicity of these materials to humans. As a result of their very small size, nanomaterials can cross physiological barriers such as skin and mucus membrane to spread throughout the body and accumulate in different organs. The French report alerts us, furthermore, to the fact that certain tests have already shown that nanomaterials have some toxic effects on certain animals.

The report draws attention also to the limitations of test methods currently used for risk assessment in relation to nanomaterials. ANSES accordingly calls for the implementation of multidisciplinary projects to develop knowledge of the characteristics and hazards of nanomaterials throughout the product life cycle.

In a report issued in 2010, ANSES recommended application of the "precautionary principle" to nanomaterials. In its new report, the French agency goes further, recommending the submission of manufactured nanomaterials to the EU regulation on classification, labelling and packaging of hazardous substances and mixtures (CLP regulation).

Although nanomaterials are theoretically subject to the CLP and REACH requirements, neither of these regulations refers explicitly to nanomaterials and neither was designed to cover the specific risks arising from them. In the view of the European trade union movement, therefore, the current EU legislation is inadequate to guarantee the protection of workers handling or in contact with nanomaterials.

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