Environment - Nanotechnology in Environment - About the Sector - Text

Environment can be defined[1] as the totality of all the external conditions affecting the life, development and survival of an organism. It consists of air, water and soil, which deliver vital environmental functions and ecosystem services that support life on Earth. Each organism interacts with and has an influence on its environment, including – or in particular - humans. Environmental functions and ecosystem services that are essential for social well-being and economic welfare are under threat from over-exploitation and pollution. The European Environment Agency[2] (EEA) lists the following as environmental topics: air quality, biodiversity, chemicals, climate change, environmental health, land use, natural resources, noise, soil, waste and material resources and water.

According to the EEA’s State of the Environment Report (SOER, 2015) new technologies, such as nano-, bio-, and information and communication technologies, are radically transforming the world. Such technologies can contribute to environmental monitoring, prevention and remediation of environmental damage but also bring potential risks and uncertainties[3]. This relates to the fact that nanomaterials, in particular those that are engineered[4], have properties that are not yet fully understood.

Information here includes consideration of nanotechnology in the environment (its potential risks, uncertainties). introducing new substances, such as nanomaterials, to the environment may have unknown environmental and health effects (environmental health and safety). Given these uncertainties and based on an assessment of cases where early warnings were ignored, the EEA sees the “precautionary principle” as the appropriate policy approach for nanotechnology.

Also considered are uses of nanotechnology for the environment (to reduce impact) nanotechnology is one of the emerging technologies that can be applied in the observation of environmental phenomena, help prevent or remediate environmental degradation (direct effect) or lead to reduced energy and resource consumption (indirect effect).

[1] https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=813

[2] http://www.eea.europa.eu/. The European Environment Agency is an agency of the European Union with currently 33 member countries (28 EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey).

[3] The European environment | State and outlook 2015; http://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/synthesis/report/action-download-pdf-old/view, box 2.1, p. 37.

[4] EEA, Late Lessons Vol II, chapter 22 on Nanotechnology. New nanomaterials may be formed by altering the shape, size and form of existing materials at the nanoscale, or nanomaterials with new properties may be developed by combining two or more nanoscale materials or chemicals.