A number of African nations have decided to establish a network to build capacity on the safety of nanomaterials. The decision was taken at a workshop in Lusaka, Zambia, organised by the UN Institute for Training and Research (Unitar) and Zambia’s Environmental Management Agency (Zema), with funding from Switzerland.

Georg Karlaganis, senior adviser for Unitar’s chemicals and waste management programme, says African nations are keen to use nanotechnology as part of developing high-tech industry, but there are concerns about safety.

At present, he notes, African nations are generally downstream users of nanomaterials, which are incorporated into plastics and textiles to improve their properties but there is a concern that companies handling such products are not always highly knowledgeable about chemistry or solid state physics.

The workshop aimed to bring two groups of people together:

  • scientists who are knowledgeable on nanotechnology from a number of African universities; and
  • experts from the government focal points of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (Saicm), who work on chemical policy.

Mr Karlaganis says the lack of information on where nanomaterials are used in products is one of the biggest problems. But the nano clearing-house mechanism, which will be discussed, later this year, at the fourth International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM4), could help, he says.

In addition to establishing a regional network to raise awareness and build capacity, the meeting discussed a number of work areas, including:

  • carrying out a survey of the status of nanomaterials;
  • monitoring of nanomaterials in industry;
  • developing guidelines for workplace safety;
  • developing legal frameworks for nanosafety; and
  • setting up national working groups.

A coordinating group for the network, with representatives from Zambia, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Sudan and Tanzania, will develop a “concept note” for the regional nano safety network, based on the workshop discussions. A similar approach was taken to the development of poison centres in Africa.

The note will be drawn up prior to ICCM4.

Unitar has two other regional nano safety meetings in the pipeline: one in Bogota on 22-24 June; and the other in Bangkok, for which a date is yet to be confirmed.

Meeting agenda