Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 14, 2013. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on November 7 said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had improperly approved the use of nanosilver by one U.S. textile manufacturer. The decision came in response to Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) lawsuit against EPA to limit the use of nanosilver out of a concern for public health. The court agreed with a key point NRDC raised –EPA did not follow its own rules for determining whether the pesticide’s use in products is safe. The court vacated the approval and sent it back to the agency for reevaluation.
“The court’s ruling puts us a step closer toward removing nanosilver from textiles,” said Mae Wu, an attorney in NRDC’s Health Program. “EPA shouldn’t have approved nanosilver in the first place. This is just one of a long line of decisions by the agency treating people and our environment as guinea pigs and laboratories for these untested pesticides.”
Beginning in December 2011, EPA issued a registration to HeiQ Materials for nanosilver used in fabrics and required the company to provide data on toxicity for human health and aquatic organisms within four years. In early 2012, NRDC filed a lawsuit against EPA seeking to block nanosilver’s use, contending, among several points, that the agency ignored its own rules for determining the safety of nanosilver. The antimicrobial pesticide product, HeiQ AGS-20, contains microscopic particles of silver and has been applied to textiles such as clothes, blankets, and pillowcases, in an attempt to suppress odor and bacterial growth.
According to NRDC, the lawsuit is a test case that challenges the growing use of nanotechnology in consumer products. In fact, silver nanoparticles are used as antimicrobials in an abundance of consumer market, including cosmetics, socks, food containers, detergents, sprays, and a wide range of other products.
The key part of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling addressed EPA’s determination that there is no risk concern for toddlers exposed to nanosilver-treated textiles. However, the agency’s rules state that if there’s an aggregate exposure to the skin or through ingestion at or below a specific level, there is a risk of health concerns. The Ninth Circuit found that EPA had data showing that nanosilver was right at the level that should have triggered a finding of potential risk, but approved the pesticide anyway. This led to the Ninth Circuit vacating EPA’s approval and sending it back down to the agency for reevaluation.
Federal regulation of nanoparticles has thus far been lacking. Researchers have debated the mechanisms by which nanosilver particles exert toxicity to bacteria and other organisms. They have long known that silver ions, which flow from nanoparticles when oxidized, are deadly to bacteria. A study conducted in 2008 and confirmed by another study in 2009 shows that washing nano-silver textiles releases substantial amounts of the nanosilver into the laundry discharge water, which will ultimately reach natural waterways and potentially poison fish and other aquatic organisms. Another study found nanosilver to cause malformations and to be lethal to small fish at various stages of development since they are able to cross the egg membranes and move into the fish embryos. A 2010 study by scientists at Oregon State University and in the European Union highlights the major regulatory and educational issues that they believe should be considered before nanoparticles are used in pesticides.
In October 2010, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) passed a recommendation directing the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to prohibit engineered nanomaterials from certified organic products as expeditiously as possible. The recommendation deals specifically with engineered nanomaterials and purposefully omits those that are naturally occurring. Further it would block petitions seeking an exemption and keep nanomaterials out of food packaging and contact surfaces.
For more information on nanosilver and nanotechnology, please visit Beyond Pesticides Nanosilver webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.