Defra seeks to clear up tiny problem

Responding to concerns about the lack of concrete knowledge about the potential impact of nanotechnology, Defra is inviting industry and researchers to share their discoveries with the Government.

A device for accelerating the growth of carbon fullerenes

A device for accelerating the growth of carbon fullerenes

The Government has come under fire from some quarters for failing to regulate this fledgling industry, while others argue potential risks are exaggerated and products using the tiny technology are completely safe.

Defra's announcement that it has launched a new Voluntary Reporting Scheme will be seen as a compromise that may fail to please either the supporters or opponents of nanotech.

The scheme invites industry, research organisations and others to provide Government with information on the engineered nanoscale materials with which they are working - materials that are so small they are measured in billionths of a metre but, as the name suggests, their will be no obligations for them to do so and it is possible that those who have funded expensive research may be reluctant to share their findings.

Government acknowledges that there is currently very little information available on the potential risks that these materials may pose to the environment and human health and believes this initiative, together with its own research programme, will go some way towards addressing this knowledge deficit.

The scheme is voluntary and will run for a period of two years.

Defra Minister Lord Rooker said: "The nature and focus of Defra's efforts to understand the potential risk posed by engineered nanoscale materials will be greatly improved by a better
understanding of the properties and characteristics of the materials with which industry and research organisations are working.

"Defra's Voluntary Reporting Scheme will provide an important means of co-ordinating this agenda, and it is critical that as many companies and organisations as possible get involved."

Dr Michael Pitkethly, chairman of the Nanotechnologies Industry Association (NIA), added: "Defra's Voluntary Reporting Scheme is a very important step in ensuring that we have appropriate controls in place for engineered materials at the nanoscale. The safety of these materials is of paramount importance to the NIA and the scheme aligns with the NIA's advocacy of a measured and responsible approach and has our full support."

Commercial products that use engineered nanoscale materials include some sunscreens, paints, diesel fuel additives, and clothing.

Sam Bond



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