The International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) and a group of consumer, health, and environmental groups have filed a legal petition with the Environmental Protection Agency demanding the agency use its pesticide regulation authority to stop the sale of several consumer products that are now using nano-sized versions of silver. This legal action is the first challenge of the EPA's failure to regulate nanomaterials.
It is becoming more common for manufacturers to infuse a large and diverse number of consumer products with nanoparticle silver (nano-silver) for its supposed "germ killing" abilities. Nano-silver is now the most common commercialized nanomaterial. CTA found over 260 nano-silver products currently being sold including household appliances, household cleaners, clothing, cutlery, children's toys, and personal care products. As CTA's legal petition stipulates, the release of this unique substance may be highly destructive to natural environments and also has serious human health concerns.
Nanotechnology is a powerful new technology for taking apart and reconstructing nature at an atomic and molecular level. As the size and chemical characteristics of manufactured nanoparticles can give them unique properties, these same properties may also create unpredictable human health and environmental risks.
Silver is known to be toxic to fish and aquatic organisms and recent studies have shown that nano-silver is much more toxic and can cause damage in new and different ways. Exposures are occurring during use as well as disposal. A 2008 study showed that washing socks containing nano-silver released substantial amounts of the nano-silver into the laundry discharge water. This will eventually reach natural waterways and will potentially poison fish and other aquatic organisms. Another study found that releases of nano-silver can destroy the beneficial bacteria used in wastewater treatment.
The legal petition demands that EPA regulate nano-silver as a unique pesticide that has the propensity to cause new and serious impacts on the environment. The petition calls on EPA to regulate these products as new pesticides; will require labeling of all products; will assess health and safety data before permitting marketing; will analyze the potential effects on human health, particularly on children; and will analyze the potential environmental impacts on the environment.
Many of the products named in the petition are either used by children (baby bottles, toys, stuffed animals, and clothing) or have high human exposure (cutlery, food containers, paints, bedding and personal care products). Studies are now questioning whether traditional assumptions about the safety of silver are adequate considering the unique properties of nano-scale materials.
Concerns over nano-silver were first raised by national wastewater utilities in 2006. A product (Samsung's SilverCare™ Washer) was found to release silver ions into the waste stream of each load of laundry. In response to this the EPA pledged to regulate nano-silver products as pesticides. However, a year later the EPA published a guidance covering only the Samsung washer and has allowed it to remain on the market.
The Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, ETC Group, Center for Environmental Health, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Clean Production Action, Food and Water Watch, the Loka Institute, the Center for Study of Responsive Law, and Consumers Union are all included in the CTA petition.
The law does not allow the agency to stand by without action while a new era of toxic pollution emerges. The EPA needs to act to prevent a serious new environmental issue from beginning. EPA must stop avoiding this problem and use its legal authority to fulfill its statutory duties.
Wife, Mother of 8, and Grandmother of 2
Jo is a 40 year old home educator who has always gravitated toward a natural approach to life. She enjoys learning as much as possible about just about anything!