November 12, 2008 / 12:25 AM / in 9 years

Urgent regulation needed for nanomaterials: experts

<p>A fullerene or "buckyball" molecule with noble gas trapped inside is shown in this undated artist concept handout image. REUTERS</p>

LONDON (Reuters) - More testing and regulation of nanomaterials used in an increasingly number of everyday products is urgently needed, experts said on Wednesday.

"...having analyzed the potential health and environmental impacts which flow from the properties of nanomaterials, we concluded that there is a plausible case for concern about some (but not all) classes of nanomaterials," the Royal Commission experts from the scientific, legal, business and medical communities wrote in a British government-funded report.

In particular the report cited tiny soccer-ball shaped carbon molecules called buckyballs that may have potential uses ranging from novel drug-delivery system to fuel cells, as well as carbon nanotubes and nanosilver.

Recent studies have found buckyballs -- short for buckministerfullerenes -- may threaten health by building up fat and have linked carbon nanotubes to potential lung cancer risk.

"We are very conscious of the extent to which knowledge about the potential health and environmental impacts of nanomaterials lags significantly behind the pace of innovation, although this could change as new scientific information arises," the study said.

Nanotechnology, the design and manipulation of materials thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair, has been hailed as a way to make strong, lightweight materials, better cosmetics and even tastier food.

Major corporations and start-ups across almost every industry invest in nanotechnology, which found its way into $147 billion worth of products in 2007, according to Lux Research.

But scientists are only just starting to look at the impact such tiny objects might have, and the British report warned existing regulations may not be able to keep up with technology.

"We are also concerned that more sophisticated later generation nanoproducts will raise issues which cannot be dealt with by treating them as chemicals or mixtures of chemicals," John Lawton, an ecologist, who chaired the report, said in a statement.

The report, to which the government must reply, also determined that there were not grounds for a blanket ban or moratorium on nanomaterials.

Specifically, it also called on the government to recognize a "degree of ignorance and uncertainty in this area" and lay out the time it will take to address these.

Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Louise Ireland and Maggie Fox

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