Two articles have been published in the last few days on the English language websites of Der Spiegel ("Is Nanotechnology Dangerous?") and Deutsche-Welle ("Germany warns over dangers of nanotechnology"), both focusing on reaction to the posting of a background paper, "Nanotechnology for Humans and the Environment: Increasing Chances, Minimizing Risks" , to the German Federal Environment Agency website; the background paper is an updated version of a similar background paper published by the agency in August 2006, "Nanotechnology: Opportunities and Risks for Humans and the Environment". The new background paper is only available in German.
According to the two articles, the background paper, while noting that nanotechnology and nanomaterials may potentially pose as yet not fully understood or studied risks to the environment and human health, they may also have the potential to be "a major factor in boosting the German economy as the country fights its way out of the current recession". The background paper calls for the German Federal government to adopt measures that are also being considered by other EU member states: a central registry for products containing nanoparticles or nanomaterials, clearly understandable labels informing consumers that the product contain nanomaterials or nanoparticles and for further research on potential health risks that nanomaterials or nanoparticles may or may not pose.The background paper, according to Rene Zimmer of the Independent Institute for Environmental Concerns, "is more or less a compilation of issues (the Federal Environment Agency) had previously raised" and "really isn’t new".
German newspapers, however, apparently seized onto the negative aspects of the background paper and ran headlines such as "Nanotechnology can make you sick" and "First official warning in Germany", more the result of sensationalistic journalism usually found in such note worthy periodicals as the Weekly World News than of calm, unbiased analysis and comment. While some articles called for Germany to abandon nanotechnology altogether, as Der Speigel points out, in the decade from 1994 to 2004, nanoprojects in Germany received 120 million euros (210,279,987 USD) in funding. Considering that level of investment, and that "the new government currently being formed between Angela Merkel’s Conservatives and the business-friendly Free Democrats are considering making their support for the nascent industry a priority in the next administration", it’s highly unlikely that Germany will walk away from nanoindustry.
Urban Wiesing, a professor at Tuebingen University, is quoted in "Germany warns over dangers of nanotechnology" as stating that :
"I strongly believe that many of the risks associated with nanotechnology have at least in part been encountered in other technologies as well," he told Deutsche Welle. "That’s why I’m confident that regulations can be found to ensure that these risks can be minimized in the interests of the users of nano products."
"I don’t have the feeling that we’re neglecting the risk issues," said researcher Zimmer. "They are being taken very seriously." ("Is Nanotechnology Dangerous?")