Should the precautionary principle be implemented in Europe with regard to nanomaterials? Expert interviews


The precautionary principle finds itself at the forefront of scientific and regulatory discussions about nanotechnology and nanomaterials. In this study, we investigated whether European experts on nanotechnology governance and the management of nanomaterials (NMs) believe that more should be done to implement the precautionary principle when it comes to NMs, including why it should/should not be used and why it has/has not been adopted so far. In total, 54 relevant experts were identified using a snowball sampling methodology, and eventually 33 were interviewed. In total, 70% of the stakeholders strongly believed that the precautionary principle should be applied to manage NMs, while fewer than 1% believed that it could be applied for certain NMs and 7% had no opinion in favour of or against it. For the majority of the experts, the precautionary principle was considered fundamental for dealing with uncertain, complex, ambiguous risks, and they felt a precaution-based management and decision-making approach should be in place for controlling NMs. Arguments for why the precautionary principle has not been adopted so far for NM management were expressed, including the systematic stigmatisation of the principle as being unscientific and anti-innovation, a fear of overregulating an otherwise beneficial technology or product and diverging interests, priorities, and decision-making criteria. Based on our findings, we conclude that there is strong support among experts to strengthen the implementation of the precautionary principle in Europe when it comes to nanomaterials.

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We would like to thank the participants who agreed to be interviewed and whose ideas and opinions informed this study. In addition, we wish to thanks the reviewers of the first draft for their valuable comments.


Part of this research was done during a research stay at Denmark Technical University by Laura Saldivar, funded by the CONACYT under the “Beca de movilidad en el extranjero 2018 (291250)” and the “Beca Fundación Kaluz para la movilidad COLMEX”. For Steffen Foss Hansen, financial support offered by the Mistra Environmental Nanosafety programme is gratefully acknowledged.

Author information




Both authors contributed to the study’s conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by LST, while the initial identification of relevant experts to interview was completed by SFH. The first draft of the manuscript was written by LST, and both authors commented on all versions of the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Laura Saldívar-Tanaka.

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This research involved interviewing human participants, from whom we obtained informed consent. Where permission was provided, we recorded the interviews; otherwise, we only took notes. We agreed not to mention the names of the interviewees in any final product.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Saldívar-Tanaka, L., Hansen, S.F. Should the precautionary principle be implemented in Europe with regard to nanomaterials? Expert interviews. J Nanopart Res 23, 70 (2021).

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  • Precautionary principle
  • Nanomaterials
  • Qualitative expert interviews
  • Europe
  • Governance
  • Societal implications