Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy
Care What You Wear

Is Your Workout Gear Ruining Farm Fields?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Clothes For a Change Campaign page.

In a glittering example of industry setting its sights on solving the great problems of humankind, you can now buy workout clothes spiked with "moisture-wicking" nano silver-microscopically tiny silver particles that kill bacteria and (as one company puts it) "help counter the formation of unpleasant sweaty odours."

But what are the consequences of our allegedly stench-free gym sessions? Before the apparel industry started spiking socks and even underwear with silver bits, you might assume the Environmental Protection Agency had thoroughly vetted the technology for unintended ecological consequences. Turns out, not.

In a new report, the Natural Resources Defense Council looks at the EPA's system for vetting new pesticides, a category that includes nano silver, since it exists to kill pesky bacteria. Result of NRDC's analysis: About 65 percent of the 16,000 pesticides legally in use made their way through the EPA without undergoing rigorous vetting for potential human and environmental harm, as they are required to under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The always-ahead ETC Group first sounded the alarm about nanotechnology a decade ago, in a 2003 report titled "The Big Down."

How did they get by? The EPA, it turns out, has been massively overusing a loophole known as "conditional registration" to green-light chemicals without much review-and that's precisely how nano silver entered the apparel market. Here is how conditional registration was supposed to work, NRDC reports:

By law, to grant an active ingredient conditional registration, the EPA must determine that 1) the registrant did not have sufficient time to generate the required data because not enough time has passed since the data requirement was imposed; 2) the use of the pesticide during this time will not cause any unreasonable adverse effect on the environment; and 3) the use of the pesticide is in the public interest, such as to prevent a disease outbreak. 

Get Local

Find News and Action for your state: