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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.