Tag Archives: European Bioinformatics Institute

European Consumer Groups’ response to public consultation on nanomaterial definition

The ANEC (The European Consumer Voice in Standardisation) and the BEUC (European Consumers’ Organisation) have issued a joint response to the European Commission’s public consultation, which was open from Oct. 21, 2010 to Nov. 19, 2010 (and mentioned in my Oct. 25, 2010 posting).

From the Nov. 23, 2010 news item on Nanowerk,

1. The proposed size range of up to 100nm is too limited

The Commission draft recommendation foresees basing the term “nanomaterial” on the size range of 1nm to 100nm. Those are also the limits contained in the ISO 27687 standard published in 2008. However, most recent scientific knowledge seems to point out that this size limit seems to be too restrictive and risks that certain nanomaterials will not be properly risk assessed with regard to their potential toxicity.

Recent studies finding that carbon nanotubes can cause the same disease as asbestos fibres received world wide attention (Poland et al. 2008; Takagi et al. 2008). Yet many of the nanotubes in the studies measured >100nm and so would not be considered to be ‘nanomaterials’ using a <100nm size-based definition. Poland et al. (2008) found that two samples of long, tangled multi-walled carbon nanotubes caused asbestos-like pathogenicity when introduced into the stomachs of mice. One of their two samples had a diameter of 165nm and a length of greater than 10µm. Similarly, Takagi et al. (2008) found that in a long term study, more mice died from mesothelioma following exposure to multi-walled carbon nanotubes than died following exposure to crocidolite (blue) asbestos. In this study >40% of sample nanotubes had a diameter >110nm.

Today, we still do not know enough about the new properties of materials at the nanoscale. For this reason, it will be crucial to apply a broad definition to nanomaterials. This is also confirmed by the SCENIHR’s opinion that “there is no scientific evidence to qualify the appropriateness of the 100 nm value”.

The approach to go beyond 100nm has already been followed by some public authorities such as the Federal Office for Public Health and the Federal Office for the Environment in Switzerland which recommend 500nm to be used as the limit of the nanoscale in order to avoid excluding any nano-specific risk.

Concrete examples where a limitation to 100nm may cause problems

– At a workshop on nanotechnologies which had been organised by DG SANCO on 22 October, it has been discussed that in the case of pharmaceuticals the size range of 100nm may be inadequate. As nanomedicines may be at the range of about 1000nm, a definition which is not appropriate for nanomedicines may hamper research and risk assessment. Thus, an EU definition needs to take into account the specific needs of nanomedicines.

– The current REACH legislation shows severe shortcomings when it comes to nanomaterials. We see an urgent need to consider all nanomaterials as new substances under REACH. Moreover, the volume threshold for registration of 1 ton per annum seems to be inadequate for nanomaterials and should be lowered to e.g. 10kg. Limiting the definition of nanomaterials to 100nm could create a new loophole in the future as substances which are slightly bigger than 100nm may escape from the above mentioned requirements that should apply to all nanomaterials.

2. Definition should include agglomerates and aggregates

A definition for regulatory purposes should include agglomerates and aggregates as they often show physiochemicals properties which may pose safety concerns. For this reason we welcome that the Draft Recommendation includes nanoparticles that have a specific surface area by volume greater than 60 m2/cm3.

You can get the entire recommendation (5 pp.) including references from here.

This puts me in mind of Health Canada’s public consultation on a nanomaterials definition. I did put in a submission to the consultation which closed in August and have yet to hear of any results from this process. I did find this notice on their Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials page,

This consultation is now closed. Comments and suggestions received during this consultation period are being considered in any necessary revisions to the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials. Health Canada will make available information to further clarify the use of this policy statement.

Couldn’t they tell us how many responses they got and maybe share a little information?

Cool science; where are the women?; biology discovers graphical notations

Popular Science’s Future of .., a programme [developed in response to a question “What’s missing from science programming?” posed by Debbie Myers, {US} Science Channel general manager] , was launched last night (Aug. 11, 2009). From the Fast Company posting by Lynne D. Johnston,

The overall response from the 50-plus room full of mostly New York digerati, was resoundingly, “a show that was both entertaining and smart–not dumbed down.”

Their host, Baratunde Thurston, offers an interesting combination of skills as he is a comedian, political pundit, and author. If you go to the posting, you can find the trailer. (It’s gorgeous and, I suspect, quite expensive due to the effects, and as you’d expect from a teaser, it’s short on science content.)

It does seem as if there’s some sort of campaign to make science ‘cool’ in the US. I say campaign because there was also, a few months ago, the World Science Festival in New York (mentioned in my June 12, 2009 posting). Thanks to Darren Barefoot’s blog I see they have posted some highlights and videos from the festival. Barefoot features one of musician Bobby McFerrin’s presentations here.

Barefoot comments on the oddity of having a musician presenting at a science event. The clip doesn’t clarify why McFerrin would be on the panel but neuroscientists have been expressing a lot of interest in musician’s brains and I noticed that there was at least one neuroscientist on the panel. Still, it would have been nice to have understood the thinking behind the panel composition. If you’re interested in more clips and information about the World Science Festival, go here.

Back to my thoughts on the ‘cool’ science campaign, there have been other initiatives including the ‘Dancing with scientists’ video contest put on by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the nanotechnology video contests put on by the American Chemical Society. All of these initiatives have taken place this year. By contrast, nothing of a similar nature appears to be taking place in Canada. (If you know of a ‘cool science’ project in Canada, please do contact me as I’d be happy to feature it here.)

On the subject of putting together panels, there’s an interesting blog posting by Allyson Kapin (Fast Company) on the dearth of women on technology and/or social media panels. She points out that the problem has many aspects and requires more than one tactic for viable solutions.

She starts by talking about the lack of diversity and she very quickly shifts her primary focus to women. (I’ve seen this before in other writing and I think it happens because the diversity topic is huge so writers want to acknowledge the breadth but have time and expertise to discuss only a small piece of it.) On another tack altogether, I’ve been in the position of assembling a panel and trying to get a diverse group of people can be incredibly difficult. That said, I think more work needs to be done to make sure that panels are as diverse as possible.

Following on my interest in multimodal discourse and new ways of communicating science, a new set of standards for graphically representing biology has been announced. From Physorg.com,

Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and their colleagues in 30 labs worldwide have released a new set of standards for graphically representing biological information – the biology equivalent of the circuit diagram in electronics. This visual language should make it easier to exchange complex information, so that models are accurate, efficient and readily understandable. The new standard, called the Systems Biology Graphical Notation (SBGN), is published today (August 11, 2009) in Nature Biotechnology.

There’s more here and the article in Nature Biotechnology is here (keep scrolling).