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Group Petitions EPA to Stop Sale of Nano-Copper Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, November 23, 2010) The International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) filed a legal petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling on the agency to use its pesticide regulation authority to halt the sale of untested nano-copper wood preservative products. The letter is the second ICTA challenge in the past two years of EPA’s failure to regulate pesticidal nanomaterials. In 2008, ICTA, Beyond Pesticides, Friends of the Earth and others including filed a petition challenging EPA’s failure to regulate nanosilver as a unique pesticide.

ICTA research found nano-copper-based wood preservative pesticides in wide use. Yet, despite EPA’s two-year old policy to classify such pesticides as “new” and requiring further data, the agency has not treated them any different than larger particle based preservatives. The three nano-copper products highlighted in the letter are manufactured by Osmose, Inc. In each instance, although the active ingredient, copper carbonate, was purchased from another company, the copper carbonate is then milled by Osmose to produce nanoparticles of copper carbonate. A 2008 report notes that nano-copper preservatives have captured at least 50% of the North American wood preservative market. However, recent reports have noted that market capture could be as high as 75-80% now.

The ultra small size and chemical characteristics of manufactured nanoparticles can give them unique properties, but those same new properties–tiny size, vastly increased surface area to volume ratio, high reactivity–can also create unique and unpredictable human health and environmental risks. Failure to adequately test nanomaterials for their health and environmental hazard potential could lead to a new health crisis like that of asbestos or lead paint.

Scientists and researchers are becoming increasingly concerned with the potential impacts of nano-particles on public health and the environment. A new study by scientists from Oregon State University (OSU) and the European Union (EU) highlights the major regulatory and educational issues that they believe should be considered before nanoparticles are used in pesticides. The study was published October 2010 in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Copper nanoparticles could be released from the treated wood during sawing or machining, cleaning, through normal wear and tear, or from product decomposition, and then become available for potential inhalation or ingestion. Reports stated in early 2009 that over five billion board feet of wood have been treated with its “micronized” copper products, so the potential for consumer exposure to nanoscale copper particles could be quite large.

“To our knowledge, EPA has never evaluated the potential hazards associated with the nanoscale particles of copper carbonate in wood treatment products,” said Jaydee Hanson, Policy Director for ICTA. “Yet one of the companies issued a press release in 2009 in which it claimed that the “consumer safety” of its products has been “confirmed.”’

It has been the announced policy of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs since at least 2008 to presume that any active or inert ingredient that is or contains nanoscale material is a ‘new’ ingredient for regulatory purposes under its pesticide regulations. However, in each instance pesticide manufacturers failed to informed EPA that its products contains nanoscale particles. Consumers have also been left in the dark about their potential exposure as these products are currently being marketed under the ambiguous label “micronized” copper.

EPA itself has recently recognized that, “Nano copper is more acutely toxic than micro copper.” Studies of the acute toxicity of elemental copper nanoparticles (23.5 nm) in mice found “gravely toxicological effects and heavy injuries on kidney, liver, and spleen.” In a study comparing the toxicity of various metal oxide nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes, copper oxide nanoparticles (averaging 43 nm) were the most potent of all the nanoparticles tested at causing cytotoxicity and DNA damage. Although the potential toxicity of nanoscale particles of copper carbonate has not been equally well characterized, the results of the study with copper oxide nanoparticles are of particular concern because both copper oxide and copper carbonate include a bivalent copper ion. Additionally, copper is known to be toxic to aquatic organisms particularly during the larval stages of invertebrates, and algae and plant life can be affected as well.

ICTA is asking that EPA:

• immediately investigate the composition the known nano-copper based pesticides, and take appropriate administrative action; and
• thoroughly investigate other possible nano-copper products, including but not limited to copper-based wood treatment products currently available on the market, as similar actions under FIFRA may be necessary; and
• if EPA determines that any manufacturer of copper-based pesticide products, has distributed or sold any product that has a composition that differs from the composition of the registration of the product, EPA should take enforcement action under FIFRA Section 12(a)(1)(C); and
• finally, EPA should publish its long-awaited industry guidance on nano-scale pesticides (Docket No. EPA-HQ-OPP-2008-0650). A notice on pesticide products containing nanoscale materials was submitted to the US Office of Management and Budget on July 30, 2010; however, no further action has been taken.

In 2007 a broad international coalition of 40 consumer, public health, environmental, and labor organizations, including Beyond Pesticides, released the Principles for the Oversight of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials, calling for strong, comprehensive oversight of the new technology and its products. Beyond Pesticides has since advocated for a precautionary course of action in order to prevent unnecessary risks to the public, workers and the environment.

At its October 2010 meeting, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) passed a recommendation directing the USDA National Organic Program to prohibit engineered nanomaterials from certified organic products as expeditiously as possible. More details about the NOSB action can be found in our blog posting, NOSB Proposes Ban on Nanotechnology in Certified Organic Products.

Full copies of the letter as well as past legal petitions filed with EPA and FDA are available at www.nanoaction.org.


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