Nanotechnology has the potential to impact on all industrial sectors and spheres of human life, introducing new paradigms with transformation capabilities more disruptive than other revolutionary technologies of the past.
The extraordinary properties exhibited by materials at the nanoscale are the source of a huge range of valuable new applications and benefits, but also pose the challenge of clearly understanding all the effects, beneficial or potentially harmful, associated with them.
Potential risks for the environment and human health related to the application and use, or misuse, of nano-related products are intrinsically intertwined with the opportunities offered by nanotechnology.
Specific studies dedicated to the assessment of the risks posed by engineered nanomaterials have highlighted they are not generally simple, with clear-cut cause-and-effect connections. Risk problems in nanotechnology are instead dominated by complexity, high degree of uncertainty and ambiguity in current knowledge about the response of humans to the use of nano-related products.
For these reasons, understanding and managing technological and societal implications associated with nanotechnology represent global and trans-boundary tasks.
A completely new multidimensional approach to risk appraisal and management is needed. Cooperation, coordination and communication between all the actors in nanotechnology are vital to promote a proactive and adaptive process capable of framing nanotechnology development across known and accepted boundaries.
This process should provide a clear understanding of the risks associated with this technology, and support an extensive debate among all stakeholders to foster the definition of a set of suitable and responsible social, political and technical actions and rules, and to develop a sustainable regulatory framework for nanotechnology capable of assuring its responsible development.
The fact that nanotechnology is still at an early stage of its development curve, makes it possible to tackle the relevant questions associated with it, comprehensively and globally, from the beginning, thereby helping to avoid some of the mistakes made in the past and to assure the success/acceptance of this emerging technology.
Paraphrasing the European Commission this means developing:
“a deliberative process involving researchers, policy makers, citizens, ethicists and CSOs to combine their skills, knowledge and understanding in an attempt to provide a societal framework for a responsible development of NS&T in the European Union, and allowing for an international dialogue notably through ad-hoc co-operative research processes.”