Canada Issues Report on Regulatory Challenges Facing Nanoscale Materials

An expert panel on nanotechnology was convened by Health Canada to conduct an eight month research project assessing "the state of knowledge with respect to existing nanomaterials properties and their health and environmental risks, which could underpin regulatory perspectives on needs for research, risk assessment and surveillance."

Council of Canadian Academies, "Small is Different: A Science Perspective on the Regulatory Challenges of the Nanoscale," July 2008.

Notable findings by the panel were: uncertainty in regulation and science can hamper commercial development of new products, the private sector prefers regulatory certainty, "[a]t present, it is not possible to implement a robust and reliable 'science based' regulatory approach to nanoproducts," the cornerstone of Canada's use of the precautionary principle means that there should be prior approval of a product before entry into commerce if any health uncertainty is displayed, and regulation should only follow after meaningful public input.

As a result of its broad survey, the panel found that while "it is not necessary to create new regulatory mechanisms to address the unique challenges presented by nanomaterials, existing regulatory mechanisms could and should be strengthened."   Specific recommendations include:

  • Development of interim terminology and classification for nanomaterials to facilitate EHS research;
  • Possible modification of regulatory triggers for when a new nanoscale material/substance should be reviewed for possible EHS risks;
  • Development of standard safe-handling procedures/techniques for nanoscale materials;
  • Development of new worker, consumer, and environmental surveillance metrologies;
  • Use of an adaptive life-cycle approach when analyzing potential nano-related EHS risks; and
  • Facilitation of adequately funded intra and inter government EHS research.

The panel's report concludes with what has become the "gold-standard" summation for nanotechnology reports:  "Research is needed to identify these properties of a nanomaterial that enables it to elicit an adverse biological response. Further research is needed to identify appropriate regulatory responses regarding nano-material exposure."

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