From odor-absorbing underpants to bacteria-resistant appliances, silver nanoparticles are on the cutting edge of antimicrobial technology. But although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has “conditionally registered” the disinfectant as a preservative for textiles such as clothing, baby blankets, and pillow cases, the Natural Resources Defense Council wants to ban the product entirely. The “conditional” clause means that the EPA requires further toxicity data but is allowing the pesticide on the market anyway, explains Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the NRDC, on her blog. HeiQ, the Swiss manufacturer behind several nanosilver products, has four years to prove that the substance will not cause “unreasonable adverse effects on human health or the environment,” she adds. “Four years!”
NANO OR NO NO?
The environmental nonprofit filed a lawsuit against the EPA on Thursday to block the use of nanosilver from the market. The day before, the National Academies released a report underscoring our insufficient understanding of the environmental, health, and safety aspects of nanomaterials. Despite efforts over the past seven years to identify research needs for the development and safe use of nanotechnology, according to the investigating committee, little progress has been made on the effects of nanomaterials.
The NRDC filed a lawsuit against the EPA on Thursday to block the use of nanosilver from the market.
“Because the number of products containing nanoscale materials is expected to explode, and future exposure scenarios may not resemble those of today, selecting target materials to study on the basis of existing market size—as is the practice now—is problematic,” the report notes.
Silver has long been touted as a potent antimicrobial, killing both harmful and beneficial bacteria. On a nanoscopic scale—40, 000 times smaller than the width of an average human hair—its ill effects are amplified. “Because of its smaller size, nanosilver penetrates organs and tissues in the body that larger forms of silver cannot reach, like the brain, lung, and testes,” Sass says. “That can’t be good!”
Although HeiQ approached the EPA to have its products registered, other nanosilver manufacturers have not. This could create a quagmire of unregulated and untested claims. ” No one needs chemical-impregnated clothing,” she adds. “Soap and water [are] all the germ-fighting we need.”