”It becomes apparent that there can be vast differences between nanomaterials“

Photo: flasks with different liquid, atomic model

COMPAMED.de asked German Deputy Assistant Under-Secretary Doctor Anke Jesse, Head of Division “Nanotechnology and Synthetic Nanomaterials" at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), on which issues the interdisciplinary research project on the safety of nanomaterials will dedicate themselves.

COMPAMED.de: Doctor Jesse, Nanotechnology has already been incorporated into many areas of life as a platform technology. Why is there just now increased attention on the topic of safety or rather the risks of nanomaterials?

Anke Jesse: The risks of nanomaterials have already been researched since 1991. Since then, the number of scientific publications in this field has steadily increased. For many years, public authorities have initiated corresponding safety research. Besides numerous national projects, the EU research framework programs play a big role. However, the industry sector bears the responsibility for the safety of nanomaterials and nanomaterials in products. That is why it is also responsible for the accompanying safety research.

COMPAMED.de: What makes nanoparticles or rather nanomaterials actually risky?

Jesse: There is no pat answer to this, because there is an abundance of different nanomaterials. In addition, these materials are produced in different quantities, shapes and with different surface treatments. Based on our current state of knowledge, it becomes apparent that there can be vast differences between these nanomaterials. A dangerous effect should not be expected for all nanomaterials per se. Negative impacts on human beings and the environment can develop especially under higher exposure.

 
 

Photo: Nanomaterial

 
 

COMPAMED.de: What questions with regard to nanotechnology and nanomaterials is this long-term research project going to address?

Jesse: This research project investigates nanomaterials, which are exemplary for a significant group on the market. Apart from this, we hope to gain insights through the project that are also useful in the evaluation of other materials. We plan to make these findings available for the international debate on testing nanomaterials. The project pays particular attention to investigating effects in the area of low exposure levels and long-term exposure, which are of great importance for the workplace and the environment. In addition, the project researches whether possible effects could occur in other organs besides the lungs after long-term exposure. So far, there is very little data available on this.

COMPAMED.de: Until now, there were no long-terms studies on the effects of nanomaterials. What does the BMU and its other partners hope to gain from this long-term research project?

Jesse: Even though there are already a few long-term studies, so far, we lack answers to the following questions: are there health risks associated with a long-term exposure to nanomaterials at low exposure levels? If so, what risks are those and how high are they? The project is addressing these core issues. These are meant to be answered through a special extended research program.

COMPAMED.de: Could the findings of the long-term studies of the new project on the safety of nanomaterials potentially have an impact on the current legal situation, so that existing laws have to be revised if the investigated special characteristics of nanomaterials are being factored in?

Jesse: The findings of the long-term studies can have an impact on the limits for the consumer and the workplace. Findings from the project, for instance the adaptation of existing test guidelines for nanomaterials, will enter into the international discussion – for example at the OECD. Currently it is being reviewed how existing laws, for instance REACH, the European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use, have to be adapted.

The interview was conducted by Diana Posth and translated by Elena O'Meara.
COMPAMED.de