Nanotechnology is hailed as a having enormous potential in the creation of new products and devices and is now used in over 800 everyday items including some sunscreens, cosmetics, bed sheets, building materials and paints. But, like the fine asbestos fibre, there are growing concerns it can kill
The rapidly growing nanotechnology market in Australia requires urgent regulation to protect the health and safety of workers and consumers, the ACTU announced today.
Unions are concerned that there is mounting evidence showing some nanomaterials are potentially hazardous yet the industry is growing without adequate worker protections.
The nanotechnology industry is projected to grow from US$32 billion to US$2.6 trillion over the next decade.
Currently there is no mandatory register in Australia of who is importing, manufacturing, supplying or selling nanomaterials and no obligation to label products. But there are moves afoot internationally to introduce regulations (see factsheet).
Nanotechnology involves using materials at the nanoscale (one billionth of a metre), which poses challenges for occupational health and safety regulators.
Research has shown that some nanomaterials may act in similar ways to asbestos.
ACTU Assistant Secretary Geoff Fary said:
"With animal tests showing some nanomaterials share the same characteristics and reactions as asbestos fibres, governments and business must not repeat the painful lessons of the past and allow another tragedy to occur again.
"Existing laws and regulations were not designed with the unique properties of nanoscale materials in mind. A recent report from the NSW Parliament recommended this be addressed and we believe it should be done nationally too.
"Until we know more about nano materials, we should regulate as if it is dangerous to human health. It is the only safe option.
"Workers in manufacturing, retail, health, laboratories, textiles, and outdoor workers are potentially exposed to nanomaterials, and the list will grow as the industry grows."
Mr Fary said that introducing regulations by the end of 2009 was a sufficient timeframe given the pace of industry development and would coincide with the introduction of Australia's new nationally harmonised health and safety laws that are scheduled in under a year.