A rapidly developing area in toxicology is the application of the science to the assessment of nanomaterials. These materials are engineered to have particular sizes and shapes that have a profound impact on their physical and chemical properties. These characteristics can also influence the human health and ecological effects of nanomaterials, compared to conventional forms of the same chemical.

How the size and shape of a nanomaterial effects its toxicokinetics and toxicology is not, as yet, fully understood. Toxicologists from industry, regulatory bodies and academia are all working to maximise our knowledge of these new – and potentially extremely useful – materials. At the regulatory level, the European Commission continues to debate over a firm definition for nanomaterials. The current recommendation considers any material a nanomaterial where “50% of the particles in the number size distribution, one or more external dimensions is in the size range 1-100 nm”.

Other groups are working to ensure that the available test methods (including the current OECD Test Guidelines) remain appropriate for the toxicological assessment of nanomaterials; proposing updates where necessary. And, although there are no specific provisions for nanomaterials in the REACH or CLP regulations, they meet the definition of a ‘substance’, and therefore must be REACH registered (if manufactured/imported in the EU at 1 tonne or more per year) and/or notified to ECHA in the normal way.

There is a wealth of available information on nanomaterials, notably in the primary published literature and also considered by expert groups; and the knowledge base is growing rapidly. Bibra is keeping a keen eye on the evolving developments. Notably, we are capturing the bibliographic details of the critical toxicological data in our in-house database TRACE for ease of retrieval for future client projects. We are also attending nanotoxicology conferences and workshops (including the first BfR Training School on Nanotechnologies for Risk Assessors, in Berlin), to keep us abreast of key developments. As such, we are ideally placed to help you identify the key literature, summarise the critical hazard data and assess the potential risk to human health of your particular nanomaterial.

Nanomaterials – such as nanosilver – are already used in a wide-range of products, including wound care products and cosmetics. It is clear that use in these – and other – sectors will only grow with time. We have the expertise to help and advise you as it does.