UK government report on the potential risks of nanotechnology

9 January 2008

The UK government has produced a second report on the risks of nanotechnology, Characterising the Potential Risks posed by Engineered Nanoparticles (1).

In the first report, published in 2005, a set of 19 environmental, health and safety research objectives were described together with ongoing research in this area and proposed research activities to be taken forward by the Nanotechnology Research Co-ordination Group
(NRCG). This was followed in October 2006 by the publication of a report setting out progress made to meet these 19 objectives.

This new report, released on 21 December 2007, builds on the 2006 publication, providing an update on the NRCG’s objectives and associated programme of work. It covers the activities of five Task Forces and progress on their action plans set out in the 2006 report to meet the 19 objectives. The Task Forces areas of responsibility are:

  • Task Force 1 Metrology, Characterisation, Standardisation and Reference Materials;
  • Task Force 2 Exposures: Sources, Pathways and Technologies;
  • Task Force 3 Human Health Hazard and Risk Assessment;
  • Task Force 4 Environmental Hazard and Risk Assessment; and
  • Task Force 5 Social and Economic Dimensions of Nanotechnologies.

The report sets out an updated approach for funding additional research and places UK activities in an international context and responds to recommendations made by the Council for Science and Technology (CST) review published in March 2007.

Professor Ann Dowling, chair of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering working group on nanotechnologies, commented on the report: "The Government has recognised the huge potential of nanotechnology and recognised what needs to be done to ensure that advances are realised safely, but by their own admission progress has been slow in some areas. Given the wealth of expertise in UK universities and industries we should be further ahead, particularly in relation to ensuring the safety of manufactured nanoparticles. In order to speed things up we need to see stronger, clearer leadership from the Government.

"The benefits of nanotechnology in areas such as improving healthcare and helping to tackle energy and pollution problems could be massive.  However to realise these benefits we must be fully confident in the knowledge that they will not have adverse effects on human health and the environment. Those wishing to exploit the technology need to be allowed to do so in a regulatory environment that will ensure safety.  That means speeding up the pace of research on the characterisation of nanoparticles and the human health aspects.

"This report talks about the need for greater coordination and international cooperation to make faster progress, now is the time for clear leadership from Government departments and for the talk to be turned into action."

Further information

1. The report, Characterising the Potential Risks posed by Engineered Nanoparticles. and the earlier reports are available on:

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