Nanomaterials: Effects on Environment and Health

Expert study (2011-2013)


Opportunities and risks of nanomaterials for environment and health

Experts claim some of the products already available on the market are having positive effects on the environment: batteries based on nanomaterials consume less energy and resources, yet are more efficient; substitution of PET bottles and nanomaterials for other forms of packaging should make it possible to reduce greenhouse emissions (according to a 2009 TA-Swiss study entitled «Nanotechnology in the Food Sector»). However, recent scientific investigations point to potential risks in connection with the use of nanomaterials. Although usually integrated into the products, if released into air, water or soil, they may accumulate and have a negative impact on aspects such as microbiological activity in soils, with repercussions for agriculture, or in terms of limiting the growth and reproductive capacity of aquatic organisms such as algae. The detrimental effects of nanomaterials on the environment can also transfer to the human population, either indirectly via the food chain, or directly in the event of exposure through the respiratory organs and skin.

Why conduct a TA-SWISS study on this subject?

The commercialisation of nanoproducts continues apace while new scientific information about the potential risks of nanomaterials for environment and health is still being elaborated and discussed. The regulatory framework in the nanosector is not very explicit and is only changing very slowly with isolated initiatives at international level. At European level, according to the latest Eurobarometer poll the population's confidence in nanotechnology is still intact, but the question of safety is becoming increasingly crucial, as is also evident from the publifocus on nanotechnologies organised by TA-SWISS in 2006. At the same time these scientific, economics, ethics and legal experts are openly concerned about the possibility of nanomaterials being viewed with growing mistrust by the population, as happened with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or asbestos. This could stifle an important, up-and-coming economic sector if the questions of opportunity and risk are not tackled and resolved in a timely manner. An interdisciplinary investigation of the potential positive and negative effects on environment and health is therefore not just interesting, but also necessary to provide the political decision-makers and the population with assessments that are as widely based and objective as possible.

Learn more

NanoSafety: Risk Governance of Manufactured Nanoparticles, European Parliament, Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA)

National Research Programme "Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials" (NRP 64) 

Media release of 30 May 2013
in German and French


Project supported by

  • Centre for Technology Assessment TA-SWISS
  • Federal Office for the Environment FOEN

Project mandataries

  • Martin Möller, Institute for Applied Ecology, Öko-Institut e.V., Freiburg, Germany (project leader)
  • Rita Groß, Institute for Applied Ecology, Öko-Institut e.V., Freiburg, Germany
  • Andreas Hermann, Institute for Applied Ecology, Öko-Institut e.V., Freiburg, Germany
  • Dr Wolfgang Luther, VDI Technology Center GmbH, Darmstadt, Germany
  • Dr Norbert Malanowski, VDI Technology Center GmbH, Darmstadt, Germany

TA-SWISS Project Supervisors

  • Prof em Dr Peter Gehr, University of Bern, Institute of Anatomy (Chairman of the Project Supervisors)
  • Prof em Dr Ueli Aebi, Biocentre, University of Basel, Steering Committee TA-SWISS
  • Dr Livia Bergamin, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO, Bern
  • Prof Dr Thomas Cottier, World Trade Institute, University of Bern
  • Dr Ernst Furrer, Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, Bern
  • PD Dr Philipp Hübner, Basel City Cantonal Laboratory, Basel
  • Prof. em. Dr. Georg Karlaganis, United Nations Institute for Training and Research UNITAR, Geneva
  • Huma Khamis, Fédération Romande des Consommateurs FRC, Lausanne
  • Dr Katja Knauer, Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG, Bern
  • Dr Karl Knop, Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences, Bern
  • Dr Franziska Meister, Wochenzeitung WOZ, science journalist, Zurich
  • PD Dr Bernd Nowack, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology EMPA, Dübendorf
  • PD Dr Michael Riediker, Institute of Occupational Health ITS, Epalinges-Lausanne & IOM Singapore Pte. Ltd., Singapore
  • Prof Dr Kristin Schirmer, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology EAWAG, Dübendorf
  • Claudia Som, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology EMPA, St. Gallen
  • Dr Kaspar Schmid, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO, Bern
  • Dr Christoph Studer, Federal Office of Public Health FOPH, Bern
  • Ariane Willemsen, lic. iur., M.A. Philosophy, Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (EKAH), Bern 

TA-SWISS Project management

Dr Emiliano Feresin, TA-SWISS

order publication