U.S. EPA levies fine against nano company

The Nanowerk News reported that this week the US Environmental Protection Agency fined a nanotech company, ATEN Technology, a whopping $208,000 because its subsidiary, IOGEAR, is selling nanosilver as an unregistered pesticide. Under the pesticide regulation laws (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, FIFRA) all pesticides must be registered with the EPA. FIFRA defines ‘‘pesticide’’ as ‘‘any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest. The registration process requires that the manufacturer provide health and safety data on its product to the EPA.

The action taken against ATEN is a very interesting case because silver is already a registered pesticide and antimicrobial agent.  But, here EPA is going after the nanosilver ions. In September, 2007 the EPA issued a public notice that, "ion generators that incorporate a substance (e.g., silver or copper) ... for the purpose of preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating a pest (e.g., bacteria or algae)...are considered pesticides for purposes of FIFRA, and must be registered prior to sale or distribution." The notice further said that all products must apply to EPA for registration by March 21, 2008, if they want to continue to sell after that date.

EPA tells me that so far no companies have voluntarily come knocking on the EPA door to register their nanosilver-containing products. Instead, savvy companies are removing advertising claims that the product has pesticidal activity. For example, today the website for FresherLonger Miracle Food Storage containers by SharperImage now vaguely advertise a " Patent-pending silicone-gasket locking system" with no mention of nano anything. However, using the internet archive website wayback machine we can see that the same website in April of 2006 clearly bragged that its, "Patent-pending antimicrobial silver nanoparticles infused into the containers reduce growth of mold and fungus". And, the tab to more information on the archived website is very specific about its use of nanosilver, even saying, "Created by advanced nanotechnology ("nano" indicating one billionth), these silver nanoparticles average only about 25nm (nanometers) in diameter — 25 billionths of a meter; one 200 thousandth of a human hair. Their natural color gives FresherLonger Miracle Food Storage containers their distinctive golden hue." 

The SharperImage is but one example of a manufacturer ducking its legal obligations to register its nanosilver products by removing claims of pesticidal activity from its advertising. NRDC has brought this to the attention of EPA, and will continue to do so until something is done about it.

Well over 100 consumer products claim to use nanosilver, according to the searchable Wilson Center database. The problem is that nanosilver, like silver, kills indescriminately. Both harmful and beneficial microbes are victims. The advantage, or disadvantage, of the nanoscale version is that it is much more toxic, more potent, than regular silver. 

According to the Nanowerk News report, the IOGEAR products at issue were: wireless laser mouse with nano shield coating, laser travel mouse with nano coating technology, and wireless RF keyboard and mouse combinations.  After being contacted by EPA, IOGEAR stopped making claims that their computer peripherals protect against germs, according to Nanowerk News.

You can run, but you cannot hide! Removing references to nanosilver without removing nanosilver isn't good enough for NRDC! And, hopefully it's not good enough for EPA and our other federal agencies charged with protecting human health and the enviroment. 

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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