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Health assessment of Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is a generic term for a wide range of technologies in the nanometre scale which contribute towards the research, processing and production of structures and materials until they are ready for the market. With the help of nanotechnology, it is possible to develop structures, techniques and systems with completely new properties and functions. Thanks to current developments and those expected in the future in the field of nanotechnology and their use in all areas of life, increasing production quantities and thereby also the increased release of many different nanomaterials has to be assumed.

What are nanomaterials?

Nanomaterials are defined on the one hand as three types of nano-objects which are smaller than 100 nanometres (nm) in at least one of their dimensions:

  • Spherical structures (e.g. nanoparticles and fullerenes)
  • Fibrous structures (e.g. nanotubes)
  • Extremely thin layers (e.g. nano-platelets)

and as so-called nano-structured materials on the other (e.g. aggregates or compound materials which contain nano-objects of this kind) (ISO/TS 27687: 2008).

Nanoparticles can be introduced to the ambient air as ultrafine dust from natural or artificial combustion sources on the one hand (e.g. volcanic ash, cigarette ash, exhaust fumes) and can occur unintentionally in work and production processes (e.g. welding smoke).

On the other hand, nanomaterials are manufactured specifically for use in many technical areas, as well as in consumer products, such as paints and packaging materials as so-called ENM = Engineered Nanomaterials. Examples of engineered nanomaterials are nanosilver, carbon nanotubes, nano-titanium dioxide and so-called nanoclay, which are already processed in many different consumer products (cosmetics, textiles, packaging and compound materials).

During the engineering of nanomaterials, use is made of the surface-to-volume ratio which is favourable in these tiny dimensions and which gives materials of this kind special or new properties. The trend in manufacturing is moving away from a top-down approach (e.g. pulverising a base material with fine particles) towards a bottom-up strategy which permits, for example, the synthetic manufacture or assembly of nano-hybrids with desired properties and characteristics.

These new properties can in principle have negative effects on human health if released particles can enter the body, distribute themselves very finely and accumulate in various organs.

Risk assessment

The object of scientific risk assessment at the BfR is engineered nanomaterials. Whether or not unknown risks for the consumer can emanate from these new nanomaterials or products containing them has not yet been fully clarified from a scientific point of view. When assessing the risks, the hazardous properties must be observed on the one hand and actual exposure on the other. This means that risks could emanate in particular from nanoproducts containing dangerous nanomaterials in unbonded form, or from products from which they can be easily released.

Reasons which suggest that nanomaterials could conceal risks:

  • The special (physical-chemical) properties of a nanomaterial, e.g. large, highly reactive (reaction-promoting) surfaces
  • Special behaviour inside the body, e.g. a long retention time and the overcoming of natural biological barriers
  • The increased contamination that is to be expected by their release.

The BfR is involved in the risk assessment of nanotechnological applications in many different consumer-related areas, such as chemicals, food and their packagings, cosmetic products, requisites, as well as pesticides and biocides.

Dialogue and research activities on nanotechnology

In recent years, the BfR has strongly supported the discussion of the possible risks of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in the field of consumer protection. A number of dialogue and research activities have been initiated, including:

The BfR is also represented on several national, European and international committees dedicated to this topic, such as the OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) and the EFSA Scientific Network for Risk Assessment of Nanotechnologies in Food and Feed.


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Publications - BfR-Wissenschaft

 (1 document)
Date Title Größe
17.04.2009
BfR-Wissenschaft 03/2009
BfR Consumer Conference Nanotechnology 1.2 MB
PDF-File

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Miscellaneous

 (6 documents)
Date Title Größe
14.02.2014
First Evaluation on the Joint Research Strategy
Nanotechnology - Risks related to Nanomaterials for Humans and the Environment 1.5 MB
PDF-File
24.01.2013
Background Paper on the Position of German Competent Authorities
Nanomaterials and REACH 1.6 MB
PDF-File
12.03.2009
BfR-Wissenschaft 01/2009
Public Perceptions about Nanotechnology 2.3 MB
PDF-File
01.12.2007
Research Strategy
Nanotechnology: Health and environmental risks of nanomaterials 447.9 KB
PDF-File
20.11.2006
Consumers vote on nanotechnology
BfR Consumer Conference on Nanotechnology in Foods, Cosmetics and Textiles 130.3 KB
PDF-File

Draft, August 2006
Nanotechnology: Health and Environmental Risks of Nanoparticles - Research Strategy 280.6 KB
PDF-File

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Press information

 (17 documents)
Date Title Keywords
18.01.2016
03/2016
Assessment of the health effects of industrially used nanomaterials to be made more efficient nanotechnology , research
13.06.2014
14/2014
What mode of action do Nanomaterials have in Liver and Intestine? nanotechnology , research
20.03.2013
07/2013
Successful research strategy for nanotechnology protects humans and the environment nanotechnology
30.01.2013
02/2013
The REACH regulation as an effective way of regulating nanomaterials chemical safety , chemicals , chemicals law , nanotechnology
27.02.2012
08/2012
Nanosilver: progress in the sphere of analysis, gaps in toxicology and exposure
12.04.2011
10/2011
Safety of nano silver in consumer products: many questions remain open
10.06.2010
08/2010
Nanosilver has no place in food, textiles or cosmetics
20.11.2008
24/2008
Nanotechnology in the focus of consumer health protection
10.11.2008
21/2008
Positive image of nanotechnology in the media
19.12.2007
23/2007
The majority of consumers view the development of nanotechnology favourably
24.11.2006
30/2006
Consumers call for comprehensible labelling and accompanying risk research on "nano"products
20.11.2006
B/2006
Consumer Conference Nanotechnology
22.08.2006
23/2006
More proactive communication on nanotechnology!
26.05.2006
12/2006
Nano particles were not the cause of health problems triggered by sealing sprays!
12.04.2006
10/2006
Cause of intoxications with nano spray not yet fully elucidated
06.04.2006
09/2006
Nanotechnology - Applications, Trends and Risks
31.03.2006
08/2006
Exercise caution when using "nano-sealing sprays" containing a propellant!

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