Daily News Archive
December 6, 2006
EPA To Regulate
Germ-Killing Nanoproducts; Environmental Groups Wary of Nanotechnology
Pesticides, December 6, 2006) The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to regulate a large
class of consumer items made with microscopic silver, referred to as
nanosilver, which are incorporated into a wide range of consumer items
used to kill bacteria and germs including high-tech odor-destroying
shoe liners, socks and slippers, toothpaste, pillows, food storage containers,
bandages, and air fresheners.
Under the new regulation, as reported by the Washington Post
last week, any company wishing to sell a product that it claims will
kill germs by the release of nanotech silver or related technology will
first have to provide scientific evidence that the product does not
pose an environmental risk. The new regulation is expected to be published
in the Federal Register by the end of the month.
Up until now, new products made with nanosilver did not have to pass
through testing or regulation, raising concerns that nanosilver washed
down drains may be killing beneficial bacteria and aquatic organisms,
and posing human health risks. Now, nanosilver products will fall under
the guidelines of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide
According to the Project
on Emerging Nanotechnologies, there are several consumer items containing
nanosilver on the market.
The term nanotechnology refers to research and technology that manipulates
matter at the atomic, molecular, or macromolecular levels using a length
scale of approximately one to one hundred nanometers in any dimension.
A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or around one ten-thousandth
the diameter of a human hair.
Nanotechnology allows certain materials to have different molecular
organizations and properties because at their tiny size, they have far
more surface area relative to their mass than their larger counterparts.
Silver, for instance, has been known for years for its biocide properties
in its bulk form, as well as for its hazardous health effects, but is
more efficient as nanoparticles.
Nanosilver is the first form of nanotechnology regulated by EPA. The
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates certain nanoproducts,
including pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biologicals. Products
like foods and cosmetics, and materials such as food additives and food
packaging also come under the purview of FDA. However, unlike pharmaceuticals
and medical devices, FDA monitors the behavior of these products and
takes regulatory action only if adverse events occur that “threaten
public or individual health.” Nanomaterials are extremely common
in cosmetics, and may pose a growing threat to public health, as their
tiny size may allow them to be incorporated into the bloodstream and
pass through cell membranes.
According to EPA’s new nanosilver regulations, products containing
nanosilver are only regulated if they make a pesticidal claim and advertise
the product as germ killing, a regulatory oversight that major retailers
have begun to note. For instance, the Sharper Image, which until recently
advertised products containing nanosilver, including socks, as anti-microbial,
has dropped all such references from its marketing materials, and will
not fall under EPA’s oversight.
Environmental groups are taking note of this gap in nanosilver regulation.
"Its sounds like a major legal loophole and is probably something
that will have to be dealt with in the courts," said Mae Wu, a
lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group
that has been pushing EPA to regulate nanosilver.
Beyond asking for EPA to close the loophole in nanosilver regulation,
environmental and public health groups, as well as scientific organizations,
are also calling for broader regulation of this booming market so that
all nanomaterials are fully tested for health and safety effects before
being put into the market. In a 2004 report, the United Kingdom’s
Royal Society—a well-respected, independent academy of science—recommends
that “ingredients in the form of nanoparticles undergo a full
safety assessment by the relevant scientific advisory body before they
are permitted for use in products.” Additionally, groups such
as Friends of the Earth, the ETC group, and Greenpeace UK have called
for a moratorium on nanoparticles.