Nanotechnology and health
Nanotechnology use is spreading quickly. Aside from its highly beneficial applications, there is concern about potential unwanted or unexpected interactions with biological systems and related health effects. WHO is addressing this emerging issue to provide guidance to countries in the European Region.
European ministers of environment and health agreed in the Parma Declaration (2010) that more research is needed on the use of nanomaterials and on the improvement of methods to assess health risks and benefits. WHO is assessing existing research and studies on nanotechnology and health, and promoting health-focused research in order to provide Member States and policy-makers with advice on risk governance.
Nanotechnology is the science and application of materials with a size below 100 nanometres (a nanometre is 10-9 metres). Many substances at this scale acquire properties that can be different from those at other scales (atomic or molecular level as well as bulk). This has allowed a variety of applications in many different fields, from medicine to consumer products, from creation of new materials to food additives, whose benefits and returns have attracted considerable research and financial investments.
Products using nanomaterials include for example sunscreens, cell-growth-promoting plastics for implants, dew-free sunglasses, hard disks and bicycles.
The properties of nanomaterials, and of engineered nanoparticles in particular, have raised concern about unwanted or unexpected interactions with biological systems, which could result in adverse consequences to human and ecosystem health. Though rapidly growing, knowledge on these aspects is limited and many uncertainties remain. Even though applications are already widespread, nanotechnology can be considered to be in its early days and the potential for developing and applying new generations of nanomaterials is huge.