Regulatory authorities need to update risk regulation policies for nanomaterials. Åsa Boholm and Simon Larsson at University of Gothenburg identify stakeholders in society for nanomaterials (government, industry and non-governmental organisations). The aim is to explore their views on risks and benefits of nanotechnology, nanomaterials and nanoparticles. In general but also in relation to specific application areas. They also investigate attitudes of the general public.

The rapid and promising development of nanotechnology necessitates a simultaneous increase in knowledge about the risks to human health, ecosystems and society. Evidence indicates that manufactured nanoparticles can have harmful effects, but knowledge about this is fragmented and sometimes contradictory.

Combined perspectives

According to Åsa Boholm, Professor in Social Anthropology at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, the major challenge in the Nanosafety program is to integrate knowledge from a broad variety of highly specialized fields of science, and to communicate problems, methods, findings and approaches across disciplinary borders.

“Regulatory authorities need to update risk regulation policies for nanomaterials and therefore it is important to engage citizens, businesses, NGOs and scientists in the policy process, including problem identification and risk management, in ways that allow risk perceptions, values and ethical considerations to be integral elements of innovation,” explains Åsa Boholm.

Åsa Boholm and Simon Larsson, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg Research Institute

For Åsa and Simon, the MISTRA Environmental Nanosafety program is a game changer. Together with experts from nanoscience, medicine and industry they now have the opportunity to combine multiple perspectives from the scientific community. The large multi-disciplinary research consortium has created opportunities for researchers to learn about matters far away from their own field of specialty and to get ideas for new collaborations.

“Technology must be driven in a socially responsible way, taking into account risks and benefits and their distribution, including ethical issues,” says Simon Larsson.

A survey is being made

In January 2017, Åsa and Simon distributed a survey to 240 expert stakeholders in business, government and non-government organizations, with the purpose to identify how they perceive risks and opportunities of different types of nanomaterials and nanotechnology. They also wanted to learn about their attitudes towards regulation and risk communication. The response has been very positive so far, and the data is in the process of being analysed. There appears to be a large need to continue to research these types of questions in more detail.

"Our research can contribute with an increased knowledge about the complexities involved in nanoscience and technology innovation in society", says Åsa Boholm.

Method for risk assessment

Professor Sverker Molander and Assistant Professor Rickard Arvidsson, Dept of Energy and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, are trying to create a method for risk assessment of nanoparticles, through a life cycle perspective. Earlier work in this area includes screening av particles to simplify the risk assessment. The researchers will now try to find an even easier way to do that. The plan is to implement the method on the different cases in MISTRA Environmental Nanosafety, for example tungsten carbide.

So far, the researchers have reviewed 20 different risk assesment methods.

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