10 years of NanoDialogue – a federal government initiative
The federal government’s NanoDialogue makes a valuable contribution to responsible use of nanotechnologies in Germany. The principle of prevention is a direct part of many of the technical innovations in the sector. Three hundred experts from the scientific community, industry, authorities and associations use the NanoDialogue as their central platform for discussion of questions surrounding this technology. On the 10th anniversary of the dialogue initiative, Parliamentary State Secretary Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter said: "The NanoDialogue has helped to anchor the debate in facts. Weighing opportunities and potential risks of nanotechnology is essential for a fact-based discussion."
The importance of nanotechnology in new products is increasing. Plastics optimised by means of the technology, for instance, help to decrease the weight of cars and airplanes and can thus contribute to a reduction in fuel consumption. New light bulbs optimised through nanotechnology – known as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) – have a long life span, transform electrical power to light more efficiently and save energy in the process. These are just two examples among a quickly growing array of products with potentially beneficial effects on the environment and economy. However, the more nanomaterials are used, the more ends up being discharged discharged into soil, water and air. Further research is still needed to establish their impact on the environment and whether risks to human health are involved. Labelling of nanomaterials is covered by EU regulations and currently applies to food, cosmetics and paints containing biocidic agents. Any products from these categories containing nanomaterials must be labelled.
Schwarzelühr-Sutter added: "The Federal Environment Ministry is doing everything it can to make sure that this modern technology is being used in a responsible manner and poses no risk to human health and the environment." The chemicals regulation REACH, in particular, needs to be adapted to accommodate the requirements of synthetic nanomaterials. "A number of member states have been expecting a specific proposal from the Commission to cover this particular issue for quite some time," the Parliamentary State secretary emphasised. Nonetheless, the responsibility of manufacturers and users of nanomaterials for the safety of the technology should not be allowed to wane.
Expert conferences on topics surrounding the use of nanomaterials have been held recent years. These have explored nanomedicine, nanowaste, the traceability and transparency of nanomaterials and the opportunities and potential risks in consumer products, based on analyses in the food sector. The discussions at these conferences were always open and transparent. Schwarzelühr-Sutter added: "Nanotechnology will only be accepted by society in the long term if findings about it are managed in a transparent manner. These must be continuously shared with various stakeholders. Acceptance also depends on companies involved in the technology making important information quickly available."
All stakeholders involved expressed the wish to continue with the dialogue initiative under the Federal Environment Ministry’s lead for the years to come.