(NHI Nanoblog) An environmental advocacy group is again taking aim at the growing use of nanosilver as an antimicrobial agent, accusing the U.S. government of failing to protect consumers.
In a new report, Friends of the Earth traces the growth of nanosilver products—ranging from sweat socks to hair dryers—and says the use of super-small silver particles to fight bacteria could cause long-term problems. The group echoes criticisms of other antibacterial chemicals, which have become more and more prevalent in a germ-phobic society.
Experts have long cautioned that overuse of antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers and other products could actually make people more vulnerable to infection. That’s because disease-causing microbes are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and other germ-fighters.
In the report, Friends of the Earth highlights the lack of government regulation of nanosilver products, as well as a host of other antimicrobials. The group is part of a consortium that has been pushing for new rules on nanotechnology for the past several years.
Nanotechnology leverages super-small particles (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter) to create new products. These materials can make bike frames lighter and stronger and sunscreen more transparent on the skin, as well as new medical instruments and medicines that can save lives.
There is broad agreement that nanomaterials have lots of potential for a wide variety of applications. But shrinking these substances can change their properties; scientists are struggling to figure out whether, how and why that shift can make them dangerous in the process.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced earlier this year that it wants to gather more information from manufacturers about a number of pesticides that use “nanoscale materials,” but has yet to issue final guidelines. A proposed “conditional registration” of a particular nanosilver application that used in workout clothing has been pending for more than a year.
In the meantime, products containing nanosilver continue to proliferate. A growing body of research suggests nanosilver can get into the air through spray products, into the water through the washing of clothes and eventually into end-stage sewage sludge. There are also questions about what the antimicrobial qualities of nanosilver mean for bacteria in the environment.