Following the publication of a study suggesting that multi-walled carbon nanotubes follow a ‘fibre paradigm’ (i.e. fibres of a specific aspect ratio (i.e. length/diameter) and their morphology can cause the same kind of clinical symptoms as those observed for other fibres of a similar morphology and aspect ratio), Matthew Dalton investigates for The Wall Street Journal how nanotechnology will be regulated under REACH, the new European chemical legislation that comes into force on 1 June 2008.
The article, entitled EU to Pace Nanotechnology illustrates both sides of the current debate: Dr Steffi Friedrichs, Director of the Nanotechnology Industries Association is quoted in support of the industry’s position that nanotechnology is safe and will pass the requirements of the new regulatory regime: "We are not saying that before REACH, our products were not safe...there have always been a lot of requirements for safety in various markets". Dr Friedrichs added that "the study on carbon nanotubes isn't surprising, and it doesn't mean workers or consumers are at risk. Workers in the industry use protective equipment, while nanotubes used in consumer products are usually embedded in hard materials, preventing them from being inhaled".
Some environmentalists, however, are concerned that the inclusion of carbon and graphite in ANNEX IV of REACH, which identifies ‘known substances’ that are exempted from the registration, evaluation and downstream user provisions of REACH, would open new ‘loopholes’. A verdict on the submitted applications to add/delete certain substances to/from ANNEX IV is anticipated to be published soon.