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anses

French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

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Updated on 21/09/2016

Assessment of the risks associated with nanomaterials for the general population, workers and the environment

Overview of work by ANSES

Keywords : Nanomaterials, Nanoparticles

Nanomaterials are made up of structures at least one of whose dimensions is between 1 and 100 nanometres, thus giving them very unusual physico-chemical properties. More and more uses are now being found for nanomaterials as a result of their very particular physical, chemical or biological properties, making them suitable for many innovative applications, especially in the industrial sector and health products. The potential health hazard related to the development of manufactured nanomaterials is recognised as an important emerging risk. Since 2006, the Agency has published several reports backed by expert appraisals concerning health risks related to exposure via food, the environment and the workplace. In 2012, it also set up a mechanism to obtain an overview of the surrounding issues. Manufacturers have been able to use since 1 January 2013 the “R-Nano” website to declare nanomaterials in accordance with the current legislation. The agency is responsible for managing these declarations and data, and the first information resulting from these declarations will be made available to the public by the end of 2013.

Nanomaterials are made up of structures at least one of whose dimensions is between 1 and 100 nanometres (1 nanometre = 1 millionth of a millimetre), thus giving them very unusual physico-chemical properties. Research laboratories first started investigating the properties of nanomaterials some 20 years ago. Today, more and more uses are being found for nanomaterials as a result of their very particular physical, chemical or biological properties, making them suitable for many innovative applications, especially in the industrial sector, but also in health products (e.g. medicines). Though once confined to laboratory use, they are now found widely in industry.

The potential health hazard related to the development of manufactured nanomaterials is recognised as an important emerging risk. Since 2006, the Agency has published several reports backed by expert appraisals concerning health risks related to exposure via food, the environment and the workplace. In 2012, it also set up a mechanism to obtain an overview of the surrounding issues.

 

Keeping abreast of scientific advances in real time

It is essential to maintain a careful science and technical watch on manufactured nanomaterials and the potential associated risks for health and the environment in order to ensure that our expertise is regularly updated in this rapidly evolving field. To address this need and ensure consistency among the different expert appraisals coordinated by ANSES, the Agency has set up a permanent working group on "Nanomaterials and health – food, environment and work", overseen by its Expert Committee on Physical Agents, one of whose aims is to draft an annual report on current knowledge of the hazards, exposures and health and environmental risks associated with nanomaterials for all their various uses.

Regarding methodology, ANSES is also pursuing important work on how to assess risk on manufactured nanomaterials contained in finished products.

In parallel with these expert appraisal activities, the Agency is continuing with the development and implementation of a computerised system to receive mandatory declarations of nanomaterials, in line with the provisions of the Act of 12 July 2010 and Decree no. 2012-232 of 17 February 2012.

 

Work undertaken in partnerships

The Agency is also involved in international projects run by the OECD and EFSA, in coordinating European research projects (Nanogenotox, a joint European research project coordinated by ANSES to develop a method for detecting potential genotoxicity in nanomaterials for the European Commission), and in studies to improve our knowledge of the exposure of specific population groups to nanomaterials, e.g. in occupational environments.

Lastly, in parallel with the permanent working group on nanomaterials, the Agency has set up a dialogue committee designed to open up the current scientific debate to all stakeholders, on major issues such as exposure, methodologies for risk assessment, or our knowledge of health risks. This committee will also participate in setting the objectives for research to be proposed for the Agency's annual call for projects to support research in environmental and occupational health.

 

Credit Photo : Jean-François Hochepied, Mines-ParisTech