Thought Leaders

Nanotechnology Risks - The Bigger Picture for Business and the Importance of 'Due Diligence'

There is increasing consensus that for nanotechnology to reach its maximum potential, we must work not only to understand the hazards and exposure routes in order to minimise the risks, but to employ responsible and reasonable protective measures whilst there is still uncertainty. Amongst the many lessons which the asbestos legacy provides nanotechnology, arguably one of the most important is need to adopt and document the implementation of safe practice(s) in the light of new evidence confirming the existence of a risk. It is prudent for industry to see the 'bigger picture' and sustain or implement practices to remain aware of the emerging scientific evidence and act to mitigate potential risks to health, the environment and business continuity.

The holistic process of risk analysis, advocated and practiced by SAFENANO - the UK's MNT Centre of Excellence in Nanotechnology Safety - is the basis of the assessment, management and communication of potential harm from substances, processes or technologies. Underpinning this process are a range of emerging and evolving recommendations and codes of practice for researchers handling nanomaterials, practical-based resources, guidance & standards, and accreditation schemes for organisations wishing to demonstrate publicly 'due diligence'.

The benefits to industry in adopting a proactive and comprehensive approach to nanotechnology risk management, using a life-cycle thinking approach, are that it provides i) a basis for responsible stewardship of nanoproducts and nanotechnologies, providing evidence of compliance with existing (and anticipated) legislation; ii) foresight of emerging issues along the supply chain which can influence how risk is identified and controlled; and iii) help to support strategic decision-making, investment, market access and product/process developments.

The objective of evaluating the attributes of a risk is to gain a better understanding by determining the expected impact, probability and timeframe of the risk. However, decisions about the significance of risk are influenced by the degree of residual uncertainty. The problem of defining operational criteria for "acceptable" and "unacceptable" risks is especially important in relation to human health and the environment in the absence of exposure thresholds. Defining 'acceptable' risk requires scientific knowledge as well as an appreciation of the limits of that knowledge. It requires a good understanding of the context of the risk and it requires willingness, by companies and regulatory agencies where appropriate, to deal openly with these difficult, variable and value-laden issues. This is perhaps the most emotive and one of the most challenging aspects of risk management which continues to evolve with influencing societal and political factors.

In conclusion, on-going research into the health and environmental effects of nanomaterials is identifying concerns and gaps that warrant precautionary action and further study. Safenano and its collaborators continue to identity and fill the gaps by working with a range of industry, academic and government stakeholders to assure the safe, responsible and informed development of nanotechnology. More information about how SAFENANO can support you in the sustainable development of nanotechnology underpinned by a documented, comprehensive and responsive approach is available at our website

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