Towards Nanotech Safety – an environmental conference

Written by Anna Wallin Adersjö Published in

A recent conference in Gothenburg gathered more than 50 people from various fields to highlight research about nanoparticles, their effect on the environment, perceptions of the risk of nanoparticles as well as possible future risk managment and regulation of nano materials.

– The purpose of this meeting is to gather all the participants of the Mistra Environmental Nanosafety program and to showcase the research that has been conducted during these last four years. And also to invite other leading scientists from Europe and from the US to give some highlights of recent research in nanotoxicology, said Bengt Fadeel, Professor at Karolinska Institutet and one of the organizers.

The participants came from academia, stakeholder organisations, municipalities and companies and listened to lectures about cutting-edge science. Several of the participants also gave their own perspective on nanotech safety and how to apply this research in society.

Keynote speaker Mark Wiesner is a James B Duke Professor in Environmental Engineering at Duke University, USA.

– It’s wonderful to see the community of people doing nanoscience applied to the environment internationally, it’s great to be here, he said.

The title of his lecture was “Nanomaterials: not the next asbestos”. The idea is that we cannot generalize about nanomaterials.

– There might be specific nanomaterials, like carbon nanotubes, that might act like asbestos. But we can’t make generalizations to all nanomaterials, that just because they are small they are necessarily toxic. The dynamics of nanomaterials are much more complex, said Mark Wiesner.

The engineered nanomaterials that he has been studying are a small amount of the total nanomaterials that we are exposed to. What we should be much more concerned about are some of the chemicals that nano objects carry around with them, he says.

Begoña Espiña from Portugal was another participant at the conference. She is the leader of the water quality research group at INL, International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, Portugal, and focuses her research on developing biosensors based on nanomaterials for capture of chemical contaminants in water.

– I think it’s very important to be aware that what happens in one location is not what is going to happen in another environment. The environmental situation is what determines what fate the nanomaterial will follow - and this determines as well toxicity. So these kinds of initiatives where we merge researchers from different fields, but as well from different geographic locations, is very important, she said.

The conference included both natural scientists and social scientists. Åsa Boholm, Simon Larsson and Magnus Jansson from Gothenburg Research Institute presented their investigation of public perception of nanotechnology.

– This research can give insights about the level of knowledge the public has and what interventions influence their attitude. It can also provide insights into establishing trust in the scientific community and in nanotechnology as such, said Simon Larsson during his lecture.

Anna Lennquist from the organization ChemSec told the audience about the SIN-list, that is their version of the REACH candidate list of substances of very high concern. 

Why is it important for you to be here?

– It’s important because we get questions about nano. What’s our position about nano, will we place it on the SIN-list? And I still find that question difficult to answer even after this conference. But at least I can say a bit more why I still think it’s difficult to answer. And I can say a bit more about what we can say and what we do know, said Anna Lennquist.

The conference rounded off with group discussions about how to move forward to assure social and environmental responsibility for nanoparticles.

– I think this meeting has been a huge success. The science has been really first class, both from the researchers within the project and from invited speakers. It’s really showing how much we have advanced in the field of nanosafety and nanotoxicology. Both with respect for the human effect and with respect for the environment. It has been an exciting meeting, said Bengt Fadeel.





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