German Advisory Council on the Environment Calls for More Precaution for Nanomaterials

Posted on September 7, 2011

On September 1, 2011, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) released a report titled "Precautionary Strategies for Managing Nanomaterials," in which it offers a number of suggestions and recommendations to "allow for innovation but also to identify and reduce risks at an early stage."  The SRU is an independent body that was founded in 1971 to "describe and assess environmental conditions, problems, and political trends and to point out solutions and preventive measures" to the German government.

Justification of the strict and consistent application of precautionary measures towards the regulation of nanomaterials is "broadly and firmly established in legislation as an extension of the state objective of environmental protection laid down in Article 20a of the German Basic Law."  In fact, SRU advocates for an overall greater use of the "precautionary principle in society, government, the law, and administrative procedures inherent in new technologies" not just nanotechnology.

In its more than 600-page report, SRU recommends that:

  • All manufacturers of nanomaterials should be held to a "stricter obligation" to submit risk information.
  • Research into the risk of nanomaterials should be much more heavily funded with public money.
  • An upper size limit of 300 nm should be used for any uniform "overarching definition" of nanomaterials for regulatory purposes.
  • A number of mandatory labeling obligations should be added, including labeling products that contain nanomaterials, products that may release nanomaterials, and products that use properties of nanoscale materials to achieve some type of functionality (such as imparting antimicrobial properties to textiles, for example).
  • REACH (the legislative framework for regulating chemicals in the European Union) should be modified to treat all nanoscale materials "as if they were substances in their own right" and be registered with separate dossiers with some set of core data requirements. 
  • Nanomaterials should have their own distinct pathway to authorization.
  • All labels and authorizations for nanomaterials should have an accompanying requirement to place them in some public product register.

While the authors acknowledge that "[i]t is not possible to make general statements about the risks of nanomaterials," they identify several categories of materials that "pose a certain cause of concern."  These include "the use of nanomaterials in consumer sprays, the growing sales of consumer products containing silver nanoparticles and the production and processing of carbon nanotubes [and nanofibers], which are suspected to be carcinogenic."  SRU similarly calls out the use of nanoscale iron oxides in "open environment applications” as this would be “incompatible with the precautionary principle."

The chapter devoted to conclusions and recommendations as well as summary for policy makers is available in English on the SRU website.