Labels on consumer cosmetics are about to change with regulations requiring manufacturers to reveal whether they contain microscopic nano particles.
The new labelling regulations come into force on July 1 and are designed to give consumers the ability to decide whether they want to avoid products like make-up and sun-screens that contain the super small nano particles.
But the Sustainability Council is concerned the the regulator charged with policing the new labelling requirements is not planning to check on compliance.
Nano particles can dramatically change the qualities of a substance, making coatings more durable, bike-frames stronger and cosmetics smoother and easier to apply.
But there are still fears about how safe exposure to nano particles is for humans. Many countries require cosmetics makers to reveal nano ingredients in their wares.
WorkSafe said it would have enforcement responsibilities until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took over on July 1 next year.
But it said: "WorkSafe does not plan to conduct proactive enforcement in this area, but will respond appropriately to reports of non-compliance with labelling requirements that are brought to our attention."
Stephanie Howard from the Sustainability Council had concerns about the passive policing plan Worksafe was adopting.
"The EPA made a good first step three years ago when it decided to require labelling of cosmetic products that contain nanoscale ingredients.
"But even with such a leisurely lead time, the Government has failed to come up with a plan to enforce the labelling requirement," Howard said.
"Government agencies need to make clear that the law is the law and that it will pursue manufacturers and importers who do not comply," she said.
The EPA is not anticipating problems, however.
"We have been in contact with major industry groups in recent months," an EPA spokeswoman said.
"They report that their members are aware of the changes, and are acting to comply with the new rules," she said.
Howard said: "In general, nanoforms of cosmetic ingredients are not necessary to achieve the desired effects. It is manufacturer choice.
"New Zealanders should similarly have a choice of whether to use or avoid products that contain nanomaterials."
"As of July 1, New Zealanders should be able to have confidence that the absence of a labelled nanomaterial means that the product contains no nanoscale ingredients," she said.
Cosmetics already on shelves or in the supply chain on July 1 are exempted from the labelling requirement.
But Howard said New Zealand needed to adopt a more precautionary approach to regulating the use of nano technology in consumer cosmetics.
"There is considerable uncertainty about the safety of nanomaterials. There is still not agreement about how best to measure and characterise nanomaterials, let alone test for their safety," she said.
"This year, the EU's consumer safety committee could not reach a conclusion on whether forms of nanosilica are safe for use in cosmetics. Yet this is one of the more widely used nanoscale cosmetic ingredients. That is why a precautionary approach is vital."
"Labelling alone is not sufficient. Mandatory risk assessment of nanoingredients is vital and the Sustainability Council has been pressing the EPA to make this a requirement," Howard said.