The Center for Food Safety (CFS), in conjunction with several other groups, filed a lawsuit last week against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency’s failure to regulate new nanomaterial pesticides. The lawsuit results from several years of EPA inaction on a 2008 legal petition demanding that they regulate these pesticides. George Kimbrell, a senior attorney with CFS said “Six years ago we provided EPA a legal and scientific blue print to address to regulate these novel materials under its pesticide authority. The agency’s unlawful and irresponsible delay ends now.”
Nanotechnology involves manipulating materials at the atomic and molecular level. Nanomaterials are so small that they cannot be seen with an ordinary microscope — a strand of human hair is 50,000 to 80,000 nanometers wide. Beyond being really really small, nanomaterials often behave differently because of their size, in ways that are unpredictable compared to the same material/s produced at a larger scale.
These unknown properties increase the potential for biological interaction and toxicity. If nanomaterials enter the blood stream, they can move freely through all organs and tissues. As Jaydee Hason, CFS senior policy analyst puts it, “Nanomaterials are novel technologies that pose unique risks unlike anything we’ve seen before.”
Nano-silver is the most common nanomaterial in consumer products, often used for its antimicrobial properties. However, since they are intended to kill bacteria, the products qualify as pesticides , which the EPA recognizes. In their petition six years ago, CFS identified 260 nano-silver consumer products, a number that is now over 400. While a definitive number is hard to find since there are no labeling requirements for nano-scale products, The Project on Emerging Nanotechnology says there over 1600 consumer products using nanotechnology.
According to the EPA, “silver nanoparticles have been incorporated into many consumer products…dietary supplements, laundry detergents, body soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, disinfectant sprays, kitchen utensils, clothing and children’s toys.” This despite a lack of knowledge regarding “release of silver nanoparticles” from these products, how and where they may travel once loose, and an inadequate understanding of “the physico-chemical properties of nanoscale silver [regarding] transport, transformation, exposure, and bioavailability of this element.”
CFS is representing itself, its sister nonprofit, the International Center for Technology Assessment, as well as, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Production Action, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in the lawsuit.