EPA Accused of Dropping Ball on Nano-Silver

     (CN) – The EPA has failed to adopt safety regulations for nano-silver, which is becoming increasingly widespread in consumer products as an antibacterial agent, a federal complaint from the Center for Food Safety alleges.
     The center and five other organizations sued the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Gina McCarthy, on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
     Six years ago, the plaintiffs say, they petitioned the EPA to regulate consumer products using nanotechnology.
     “Consumer products containing manufactured nanoparticles have already arrived on market shelves, and numerous pesticidal products within EPA’s jurisdiction, such as antibacterial and antibiotic clothing, are now widely available,” the complaint says. “Manufactured nanomaterials have fundamentally different properties from their bulk material counterparts, and those properties create unique public health and environmental risks that require new risk assessment paradigms. Yet EPA has thus far failed to address the risks of pesticidal nanomaterials such as nano-silver-containing products.”
     There are allegedly 1,600 nano-products on the U.S. market, most of which use nano-silver as an antimicrobial agent.
     These products include dietary supplements, laundry detergents, soaps and lotions, wet wipes, various types of clothing, food storage containers, sanitizing sprays, air and water purifiers, door handles, printer ink, computer keyboards, and children’s toys, according to the complaint.
     The EPA already regulates silver as a pesticide, because it is highly toxic to fish and invertebrates, but does not regulate nano-silver, although these tiny silver particles may also have potentially toxic effects on human cells.
     “Because of their tiny size, nanomaterials have unprecedented mobility in human bodies and the environment,” plaintiffs claim.
     “For example, manufactured nanoparticles can enter the body and pass through biological membranes – e.g., cell walls, cell tissue, and organs – more easily than larger particles.”
     Nano-silver allegedly may accumulate in the liver, or pass into the brain, causing health problems.
     While it is unclear what larger environmental risks nano-silver may pose, “its biocidal activity is harmful and potentially deadly to beneficial microbes like bacteria and fungi, and may cause disturbances to critical ecosystems and ecological food webs,” the complaint says.
     The EPA opened a public comment period after receiving the petition, plaintiffs say.
     But six years later, the agency has still not made any answer.
     “In the interim, hundreds of new pesticidal nano-silver products have reached the market without any pesticide oversight from EPA. Accordingly, this court should order EPA to respond to plaintiffs’ 2008 Petition without further unlawful delay,” the complaint states.
     The International Center for Technology Assessment, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Environmental Health, Clean Production Action, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy are also plaintiffs in the action.
     Plaintiffs are represented by Peter Jenkins, in-house counsel for the Center for Food Safety.

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