Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are increasingly used worldwide. The properties of ENMs differ significantly from those of bulk chemicals of the same composition: they have a much larger specific surface area and surface activity or much larger deposition rate in respiratory systems. This may lead to unanticipated effects in human health and ecosystems, causing adverse effects on the metabolism of living beings.
Little is known about the levels, nature and possible adverse effects after exposure to engineered nanomaterials in indoor workplaces and urban areas. No specific biomarkers have been identified or validated to detect early effects on the pulmonary and cardio-vascular systems. There is a lack of precise recommended exposure measurement strategies and standardised testing methods. The difficulty of discriminating between the background levels of natural nanoparticles (background aerosols) and manufactured nano-aerosols (ENMs) constitutes a major obstacle in assessing ENM-specific exposures.
There is, thus, an urgent need to provide stakeholders, including regulatory bodies and companies, with an integrated approach to generate robust data on the exposure levels and related health effects, in order to support risk assessment of these chemicals of concern.
The LIFE NanoEXPLORE project will develop technology and online tools to monitor exposure to engineered nanomaterials in indoor workplaces and urban areas. Bio-monitoring will allow it to identify possible health effects from exposure to ENMs, including the effects of inhalation. The project will validate and demonstrate the feasibility of its approach to nanomaterial risk assessment by implementing a pilot study in four European countries: Greece, Italy, Spain and the UK.
The long-term goal is a harmonised health surveillance system and new EU policies on the safer use of ENMs. If achieved these would lead to a 10% reduction in potential adverse effects derived from exposure to engineered nanomaterials.
The theme of the project is aligned with the priorities published by the EU NanoSafety Cluster in March, 2017, as well as with the information published in the European Union Observatory for Nanomaterials (EUON), launched by EU authorities, where it is stated that ENMs are covered by the same rigorous regulatory framework that ensures the safe use of all chemicals. Within REACH Regulation, the EU defines an exposure level below which no adverse effects are expected (DNEL). Under the EU Occupational Health and Safety Framework Directive indicative occupational exposure levels have to be applied. Moreover, when substances have hazardous properties, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) must be informed and the substances labelled and packaged so they can be used safely.