Analysis of Currently Available Data for Characterising the Risk of Engineered Nanomaterials to the Environment and Human Health – Lessons Learned from Four Case Studies

European Commission Joint Research Centre, Institute for Health and Consumer Protection, Via E. Fermi 2749, Ispra, Italy.
Environment international (Impact Factor: 5.56). 03/2011; 37(6):1143-56. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2011.02.005
Source: PubMed


Production volumes and the use of engineered nanomaterials in many innovative products are continuously increasing, however little is known about their potential risk for the environment and human health. We have reviewed publicly available hazard and exposure data for both, the environment and human health and attempted to carry out a basic risk assessment appraisal for four types of nanomaterials: fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, metals, and metal oxides (ENRHES project 2009(1)). This paper presents a summary of the results of the basic environmental and human health risk assessments of these case studies, highlighting the cross cutting issues and conclusions about fate and behaviour, exposure, hazard and methodological considerations. The risk assessment methodology being the basis for our case studies was that of a regulatory risk assessment under REACH (ECHA, 2008(2)), with modifications to adapt to the limited available data. If possible, environmental no-effect concentrations and human no-effect levels were established from relevant studies by applying assessment factors in line with the REACH guidance and compared to available exposure data to discuss possible risks. When the data did not allow a quantitative assessment, the risk was assessed qualitatively, e.g. for the environment by evaluating the information in the literature to describe the potential to enter the environment and to reach the potential ecological targets. Results indicate that the main risk for the environment is expected from metals and metal oxides, especially for algae and Daphnia, due to exposure to both, particles and ions. The main risks for human health may arise from chronic occupational inhalation exposure, especially during the activities of high particle release and uncontrolled exposure. The information on consumer and environmental exposure of humans is too scarce to attempt a quantitative risk characterisation. It is recognised that the currently available database for both, hazard and exposure is limited and there are high uncertainties in any conclusion on a possible risk. The results should therefore not be used for any regulatory decision making. Likewise, it is recognised that the REACH guidance was developed without considering the specific behaviour and the mode of action of nanomaterials and further work in the generation of data but also in the development of methodologies is required.

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