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Nanotechnology is regarded as one of the key technologies of the future and associated with high expectations by politics, science and economy. Artificially produced nanosized particles and nanoscale system components have new properties which are of importance for the development of new products and applications. Such new properties of materials and substances result from the special properties of surfaces and interfaces and in part, from the geometric shape of the material. In theory nanoparticles (NPs) can be produced from nearly any chemical; however, most NPs that are currently in use today have been made from transition metals, silicon, carbon (single-walled carbon nanotubes; fullerenes), and metal oxides (zinc dioxide and titanium dioxide). Potentially harmful effects of nanotechnology might arise as a result of the nature of the NPs themselves, the characteristics of the products made from them, or aspects of the manufacturing process involved (Borm and Kreyling, 2004). The large surface area, crystalline structure, and reactivity of some NPs may facilitate transport in the environment or lead to harm because of their interactions with cellular material. In the case of nanomaterials, size matters, and could facilitate and exacerbate any harmful effects caused by the composition of the material. The highest risks for humans and the environment are associated with nanomaterials contained in products in the form of free particles. As long as NPs remain firmly embedded in materials, hardly any risk should be expected (Brouwer, 2004). However, it has to be clarified in these cases whether and in which form nanomaterials can be released into the environment during the production process, the use of a product, due to ageing and degradation as well as during disposal and recycling processes. Of course, also in the case of nanomaterials, environmental risk assessment should take into account their entire life cycle.




Project funded by the European Community under the "Structuring the European Research Area" Specific Programme Research Infrastructures action (FP6)