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A bit about safety and risk

Hazchem Suit

To find out what the risk is, you need to look at Hazard x Exposure.

So first you ask - what is the hazard? That means what is the thing that is likely to cause harm, and what are the harmful effects (this is sometimes called toxicity).

Then you ask - what is the exposure? - That means how much of the hazard am I going to come in contact with and in what way.

Then, given the hazard and the potential exposure to the material or product, is it worth it putting on the market? This is the calculation which should happen with every product.

An example...

You may be happy to have bleach in your home for cleaning or disinfectant purposes, but know that your child will be harmed if they drink it, so you keep it out of reach. It’s useful, but it's also hazardous. You minimise the risk by putting it out of reach of children (minimising exposure).

This is true for nanomaterials as well. If a nanomaterial has been determined to be hazardous in some way, (and many will probably not be at all hazardous), but you somehow reduce the potential exposure to it then the risk of that hazard is quite low.

Nano and risk

Finding the hazard

So with nanomaterials, work needs to be done first to find the hazard. For example, how is it different and does it cause harm in the body or in the environment? Some materials or processes will have been tested and used for some time for those questions to be answered. For others, the answers may not be clear and new tests need to be done.

Understanding the exposure

Then how are people likely to be exposed to it? For example, how is this material going to be handled in a lab or factory, or will we eat it for our lunch, bond it to metal for a car, or use it on our skin? Will that exposure change when the product is used or thrown away?

Then decide

That's how governments and companies make decisions about what products are put on the market and for what reason. There are often laws stating what substance can be used in what area and how hazardous things must be labelled.

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The UK government has funded a project called SAFENANO to help companies and scientists share their research and understand more about what is going on in this very important area.

Go to www.safenano.org for more detail on this subject.

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