How do nanomaterials affect human health and the environment? There is no simple answer to this question. Although scientists have gained a lot of experience in assessing the safety and toxicity of chemicals in general, nanomaterials continue to pose additional technical and scientific challenges and questions.
A hot topic of discussion amongst toxicologists is whether nanomaterials exhibit nano-specific biological effects in humans and the environment that are not seen in chemicals in general.
Nanomaterials are a very diverse group of chemicals. Therefore, it is difficult to make general statements about nanomaterials and they have to be considered on a case-by-case basis, in the same way as any other chemical.
Some generalisations can be made however. For example, the EU Scientific Committee for Emerging and Newly Introduced Health Risks (SCENIHR) concluded already in 2006 that for a readily soluble nanomaterial, the toxicity of the conventional form may in most cases apply. This has been confirmed by other scientific committees/panels of the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) in their more recent opinions.
Significant work has also been done in studying the possible effects to the genetic material in the cells that nanomaterials may cause including the potential mechanism behind it. In addition, as a result of the experience gained so far on nanomaterials, scientists have proposed new approaches to assess their possible risk. Work continues to improve our understanding of how best to test and assess the possible hazards and risks of nanomaterials.
- EUON: Risk assessment of nanomaterials - further considerations [PDF]
- RIVM Report 2014, "Assessing health & environmental risks of nanoparticles"
- SCENIHR report 2006, "The appropriateness of existing methodologies to assess the potential risks associated with engineered and adventitious products of nanotechnologies"
- SCENIHR report 2007, "The appropriateness of the risk assessment methodology in accordance with the technical guidance documents for new and existing substances for assessing risks of nanomaterials"
- Danish EPA Report 2014, "Nanomaterials in waste - Issues and new knowledge"
- SCENIHR Report 2014, "Nanosilver: safety, health and environmental effects and role in antimicrobial resistance"