Technological advances make it possible to manufacture, modify and use materials with miniscule dimensions: nanotechnology. The resulting nanomaterials have interesting new properties and are already being used regularly in all sorts of products, ranging from sunscreen and textiles to car tyres and paint. The special properties of nanomaterials make non-conductive substances conductive or opaque materials transparent. This is because nanoparticles behave differently and respond differently to their environment.
There is still insufficient knowledge of the risks that nanomaterials may entail. Many ordinary chemicals often already have one or more nanoforms, which, due to their shape and size, present different risks to those of the "parent chemical". Standardised test and measurement methods for the relatively simple "first generation nanomaterials" (where the particles consist of a single chemical substance) are still under development. Knowledge about potential risks (and how to determine them) of more complex nanomaterials (where the particles consist of combinations of chemical substances) is even more limited. And where materials combine nanotechnology and biotechnology, it is unclear which laws and regulations govern these new materials.
Gaining and sharing knowledge
In the case of nanomaterials, Safe-by-Design focuses on gaining and sharing more knowledge about risks and on using that knowledge early in the innovation process. The knowledge must come primarily from industry, innovators and researchers. This has to occur in close cooperation with the authorities, however, so as to agree which information is relevant and which test methods and testing strategies are required. This is important in terms of legislation, but also for designers who right now want to design safely.
Experience in the Netherlands
Practical experience with Safe-by-Design has already been gained in the Netherlands through a programme called Nanonext.nl. Risk Analysis and Technology Assessment (RATA) was a permanent part of this extensive nanotechnology research programme. All researchers were required to look not only at the opportunities, but also at the risks of new developments using nanotechnology. This marked the start in the Netherlands for policy on Safe-by-Design.
Research institutes, industry and regulatory authorities have joined forces in various European research projects and programmes so as to develop test methods and testing strategies. These are necessary in order to make choices in the development of materials by applying Safe-by-Design and to regulate nanomaterials through future amendments to legislation.
The four most recent projects to which the Netherlands has contributed are NanoReg (coordinated by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management), Gov4nano (under the coordination of RIVM, the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment), Prisma en Nanoreg2. RIVM contributed significantly to the last two of these projects. Links to more information about these projects can be found at the bottom of this page.
More information about European initiatives
The Netherlands has contributed and will continue to contribute to various programmes and projects that are relevant to Safe-by-Design and nanomaterials. They include:
NanoReg and Prosafe
These are developing testing methods and strategies for the thorough testing of nanomaterials; this makes them relevant to the further development of Safe-by-Design. Read more >>
This project is seeking to firm up the Safe-by-Design concept in a number of pilots and to make it implementable. A strategy for grouping nanomaterials has also been developed, so as to speed up the assessment of comparable nanomaterials. Read more >>
This involves developing a more practically-oriented approach to 'Responsible Research & Innovation' (RRI) for small and medium-sized companies. RIVM has developed a toolkit in this project, with tools usable for RRI and Safe-by-Design. Read more >>
The aim of Gov4Nano is to develop better control of and collaboration on policy and research directed towards the risks of nanomaterials, with a focus that includes Safe-by-Design and FAIR data. Read more >>
More information about nanotechnology
Read more about nanotechnology at: