Last changed: 17/04/12
Nanotechnology is present in our everyday lives in many ways. Nanotechnology products can be found everywhere, but the impact of nanotechnology – in particular on mankind and the environment – is largely unknown and has not yet been extensively researched. The German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) supports appropriate innovations but also draws attention to risks and develops recommendations for action.
Nanotechnology deals with the production and application of processes and materials composed of structurally definable particles on a scale of about 100 nanometres (1 nm = 10-9 m) or less in at least one dimension; in other words, particles which are more than 1,000 times smaller in diameter than a human hair. At this scale the physical and chemical properties of materials change, and these changes can be applied in a variety of ways to develop new types of products and applications.
The influence of nanotechnology is already reflected in the development of new products and applications. Its impact can already be felt in many areas of the economy such as the automotive industry, mechanical engineering, the chemicals and food industries, and the biotech and environmental technology fields. Whereas nanotechnological products can have a positive impact on the environment and economy, their increasing use results in higher emissions of synthetic nanomaterials into the environmental compartments soil, water and air. Little research has been done on the effects of nanomaterials in the environment and their possible health risks.
As a result, there is an extensive need for research as well as appropriate regulation. This requires a transparent assessment of nanotechnological processes and products by all involved parties ((industry, science and public bodies) with respect to the pros and cons for the environment and health. Such an assessment demands that manufacturers provide scientifically sound data on the applied nanomaterials. Due to the gaps of knowledge, UBA recommends to prevent the release of nanomaterial into the environment as long as their impact on mankind and the environment remains largely unknown.
UBA seeks to provide information about the environmental and health aspects of nanotechnology, to narrow the gap in knowledge, and to identify further need for action. On the one hand UBA supports the use of nanotechnology with ecological potential and it funds innovations suited to that purpose; on the other hand, it draws attention to the risks nanomaterials harbours for the environment and human health and develops recommendations for best practise aimed at reducing or eliminating risk.