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Press releases and Media Coverage

Nanotech study will address concerns about nanoparticle safety

The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering study on nanotechnology will address concerns about the safety of nanoparticles, Professor Ann Dowling, the chair of the working group, said today (30 September 2003), as an update report outlining how the study will progress was published. The study will also consider other potential benefits and problems associated with this emerging area of science.

Prof. Dowling announced that the working group would consider nanoparticle safety in response to views expressed by stakeholders at the start of the project. Over 80 stakeholders from academia, NGOs and industry responded to the initial call for views - a chance for stakeholders to highlight issues on which they believed the study should focus. Almost every respondent that addressed health and safety issues highlighted nanoparticles as a potential area of concern. The confusion of science fiction with science fact was also seen as a major issue by stakeholders who stressed the importance of the study separating the hype from the hypothetical with regard to nanotechnology.

The update report gives details of workshops the working group plans to hold with stakeholders. The first workshop with scientists and engineers working in nanotechnology will take place today (30 September 2003). The meeting aims to establish where research is now, where it could be in 5 or 10 years time, and explore possibilities for the use of nanotechnology further in the future. A full report of the workshop will be available in November.

Prof. Dowling, said:
“Nanoscience and nanotechnology involve working with matter at the atomic or molecular scale. It is rare to define a research area in terms of a length scale, and this definition is so broad that it brings in a huge collection of disparate topics - including most of chemistry. Indeed, developing a more appropriate definition is one of the tasks for the working group. Our workshop today with scientists and engineers aims to distinguish between hype and real potential. We will be exploring where research is today, how it might be used in the future and the likely timescale for such developments.

“Nearly every respondent to our call for views who addressed health and safety issues highlighted the inhalation of nanoparticles as a potential area for concern. The air is already full of nanoparticles both naturally occurring and man-made - indeed everyday incidents like burning a piece of toast add to them. The study will explore whether nanoparticles produced by new technology have the potential to cause additional risks. This issue will be examined in the meeting with scientists and engineers today and at subsequent meetings with health and safety and environmental experts. I also suspect the issue will be raised by NGOs when we meet them in October, and it is certainly something we’d like to discuss with them.”

Other elements in the study include:

  • A workshop with NGOs - This will take place on the 30 October 2003 and will involve the working group consulting and discussing issues with NGOs. About 30 invited participants will be present at the workshop. The working group will prepare questions and outline issues they would like to discuss at the meeting and the NGO participants will have the opportunity to help set the meeting’s agenda.
  • A public consultation - This research will begin in October and will take approximately two months. It will consist of in-depth workshops with members of the public to explore their ideas about nanotechnology and to identify and discuss any potential concerns or questions they might raise. It will also include a public survey with 1000-2000 people to establish what level of awareness of nanotechnology there is among members of the public. This will be followed by a month-long web consultation.

Further meetings with health, safety and environmental experts, and with regulators, are planned for the study. More details of these will be provided later this year. In addition, the working group will have the opportunity to consider further written and oral evidence.

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The Royal Society 2003
The Royal Academy of Engineering