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Nanomaterials: Undersized, Unregulated and Already Here

Corporate Watch
Originally published: 

Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at a size so small that it is measured in nanometres (one billionth of a metre), the scale of atoms and molecules.

Ever Heard of Nanotechnology?

Chances are you are already rubbing it into your skin, wearing it and maybe even eating it. Far from being science fiction, nanotechnology is a commercial reality and already in the shops. From car polish to bandages, washing machines to waterproofs and makeup to bicycles, over 100 products based on engineered nanomaterials are on sale in the UK.

Is it Safe?

Not necessarily. The rush to commercialise nanomaterial products has outpaced research into their safety. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that nanomaterials pose a unique and at present poorly understood range of toxicity problems. How nanomaterials will impact on human health and the environment is far from understood. Beyond issues of toxicity there are also concerns about the wider social and economic impacts of nanomaterials.

Is it Regulated?

Not really. Just as nanomaterial commercialisation has overtaken research into safety, it has also left the regulators lagging behind. Nanomaterials currently exist in a regulatory vacuum with no laws in the UK, or anywhere else in the world, to deal with the specific set of problems they raise. Despite this, over 100 products are already on the market, unlabelled and effectively unregulated.

This briefing gives an overview of the first generation of commercial nanotechnology products available in the UK.

The briefing explains:
- what nanotechnology and nanomaterials are;
- how and why nanomaterials are made;
- which companies are developing and manufacturing them.

We have identified a range of consumer products in which nanomaterials are already
being sold, including:

- sunscreens
- cosmetics
- clothing
- construction materials
- sports equipment
- health care products
- food packaging

The briefing also outlines some of the toxicity dangers and potential social and environmental issues associated with nanomaterials, and reviews the state of nanomaterial regulation in the UK.