On January 21, 2022, the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) of the European Commission (EC) published a second statement on emerging health and environmental issues. SCHEER members identified nine emerging issues in the non-food domain as having potential impact on human health and/or the environment in the future and assigned them overall priority scores (*, 1, 2 or 3 , where * is uncertain and three is high). Emerging issues identified include organic nanotechnology (priority score two) and the emerging risk of conversion of microplastics to nanoplastics in the environment (priority score three):
- Nanotechnology organic substances: Organic substances are increasingly used in complex particulate formulations, including medical and agricultural applications that specifically use nanotechnology. This includes the combination of organic and inorganic substances, especially in medical developments, stimulating growth in the development of new materials. SCHEER says there is therefore a risk of misapplied risk assessments and invalid assumptions, such as “it’s organic/biological so it must be safe” or “it’s a nanomaterial so we know that it cannot be absorbed”. According to the statement, organic nanoparticles can be considered boundary materials because they are organic in nature and have sizes in the nanometer range (less than one micrometer (μm)), and sometimes even less than 100 nanometers (nm) , the size indicated for nanomaterials. /nanoparticles. Organic nanostructures behave like nanoparticles when intact, but change organic biological behavior after dissociation at a potential target site. It is necessary that a clear distinction be made in the risk assessment between hard (in)soluble solid nanomaterials (g., metal and metal oxides) and so-called “soft” nanomaterials composed of organic molecules, as they can have a totally different interaction/effect in biological systems.
- Nanoplastics: According to SCHEER, the production, use and disposal of plastics are “now ubiquitous”. Plastic polymers have not been considered substances of health concern as they are generally inert in nature and unlikely to be absorbed into the body due to their large molecular sizes. However, they are very persistent in the environment, where they can be found by various elimination/emission pathways. The gradual degradation of plastic materials over time is known to result in microplastics. SCHEER notes that these are, “in theory, likely to degrade further into nano-plastics.” SCHEER notes that this topic has been the subject of recent research and development and has been proposed as an emerging environmental risk topic requiring further exploration.
The Commission services will be invited to include these emerging issues in their policies and research programme.