Nanosafety lessons from the Helsinki EU-US nanoEHS workshop
Last October some of the NanoTOES tutors took part in the second gathering of the members of the EU-US nanoEHS dialogue platform, hosted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, in Helsinki, Finland (October 25-26). This platform aims to create a space (through video- and/or teleconferences and annual workshops) for nanosafety scientists and safety professionals “to develop a shared repertoire of protocols and methods to overcome research gaps and barriers and to enhance their professional relation.” This initiative is driven by the European Commission through the NanosafetyCluster (http://www.nanosafetycluster.eu/) and the United States Government through their National Nanotechnology Initiative / Coordination Office (http://www.nano.gov/).
The meeting comprised presentations, debates and summarizing reports revolving around six main areas of nanosafety:
- Risks Assessment
- Ecotoxicity Testing and Extrapolation towards QSARs, with Material Characterization
- Predictive Modeling for Health, with Material Characterization
- Exposure through the Life Cycle, with Material Characterization
- Databases and Ontologies
- Risk Management and Control
and the agenda and presentations can be found at the platform website: http://us-eu.org/.
Some of the main ideas exposed during the meeting, that reached high consensus among the participants, were
- The safety of a nanoparticle must be studied through its evolution, not only at a particular stage of its life. For example, pristine out-of-the-lab or out-of-the-factory nanoparticles are not the same as the ones who have finally arrive to the application point, and also may not be the same after some time when they are disposed of. Moreover, when exposed to the environment, they may change from medium to medium and with time. All this is essential to proper nanosafety assessment.
- To understand and assess the risk posed by nanostructures, it is key to consider not only their composition, size and shape, but also more general its “morphology”, correlating “structural parameters” with “catalytic activity”, or similar concepts.
- Nanoparticles are not a new thing, there are already many forms of nanomaterials present in nature. This is a fact that sometimes passes unnoticed, but by-nature nanomaterial are safe by-nature. A distinction must be acknowledged when we talk about the safety of engineered nanomaterials.
- Classification and ontology of nanomaterials is essential for its regulation, together with a database (or several coherent databases) for containing this information and nanoinformatics to take the most out of it. There are many ongoing efforts, but there is still not an agreement on what information is relevant and what should be stored (or even measured). A take-home message was that European projects must make an effort to organize and preserve the nanomaterial data they generate.
- We should learn how to deal with nanosafety issues from a new perspective, that is, not thinking about simple toxicology (hazard identification) or not even risk assessment (risk = hazard x exposure), but rather as a “management of risks vs. benefits”, as ultimately the matter is whether the benefits of engineered nanomaterials outweigh their risks.
In NanoTOES we are then glad to see that many of these important concepts are already at the core of our project, in particular points 1, 2 and 5. Indeed, in our little community, we are very aware that composition, size and shape are not enough, and surface state and reactions to the surrounding medium are essential to understand nano-bio interactions and assess the safety of nanomaterials.
Moreover, we are called to pay more attention to our data generation and manipulation. Indeed, going to nanoinformatics is beyond the scope of our project, but nevertheless data sharing criteria should apply, as we started with our “NP DataSheets” (in our document repository).
Then, I believe that we should all –not only within NanoTOES– become more aware of the existence of natural, incidental or unnoticed nanoparticles… because it is amazing that nature has already solved the “nanosafety questions and challenges”, and we should take advantage of that. In fact, in our group we recently prepared a little e-book on that – you are welcome to check it out here. Moreover, acknowledging and understanding natural nanoparticles is essential to arrive to the proper regulation of nanomaterials.