Nanotechnology includes the manufacture, use and manipulation of materials at the nanoscale. While there is no internationally agreed definition, nanomaterials have been described as in the size range of 1 to 100 nanometres. The global nanotechnology market is expected to grow at an annual rate of around 17 per cent between 2017 and 2024, when it has been estimated to reach US dollars 125 billion. Manufactured nanomaterials are now used in many industry applications and consumer products, providing important benefits in areas such as medicine and environmental management (GCO II, UNEP 2019).
Despite multiple benefits associated with the technology, concerns have emerged regarding potential risks posed by manufactured nanomaterials to human health and the environment.
Consumers may be exposed to nanomaterials via a wide range of products, including food packaging, textiles and personal care products, and workplace exposure to nanoparticles may occur in various types of industries. Their small size gives nanoparticles properties that may allow for increased penetration of biological and environmental barriers, as well as increased reactivity, making them potentially a more effective source of exposure compared to bulk materials. Potentially adverse effects, including cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, have been identified for a number of manufactured nanomaterials (GCO II, UNEP 2019).
In light of these concerns “Nanotechnology and manufactured nanomaterials” was designated an emerging policy issue at the second session of the ICCM in 2009. Stakeholders stressed the need to close knowledge gaps; to understand, avoid, reduce and manage risks; and to review the methods used for testing and assessing safety.