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Nanotechnology encompasses the design, characterisation, production and application of materials and systems by controlling shape and size at the nanoscale (nanometres). Nanomaterials may differ from other materials because of their relatively large specific surface area, such that surface properties become particularly important.
There has been rapid growth in investment in nanotechnology by both the public and private sectors worldwide. In the EU, nanotechnology is expected to become an important strategic contributor to achieving economic gain and societal and individual benefits.
Although there is continuing scientific uncertainty and controversy about the safety of nanomaterials, there is only a limited amount of scientific evidence about nanomaterials and human health risks.
It is important to ensure that timely policy development takes these issues into consideration. Uncertainty about safety may lead to polarised public debate and to business unwillingness to invest further in nanotechnology.
A clear regulatory framework to address potential health and environmental impacts, within the wider context of evaluating and communicating the benefit–risk balance, must be a core part of Europe’s integrated efforts for nanotechnology innovation.