The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that the Swiss company HeiQ Materials Ag has applied to the U.S. EPA to market a coating, called HeiQ AGS-20, as an antimicrobial treatment to help control odor in clothing subject to odors, including underwear and children’s athletic wear. The EPA proposed to give the Swiss company a “conditional” approval, lasting four years, while the agency explores nanosilver’s possible implications for human health and environmental harm. This week the EPA is in receipt of a complaint from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
What’s the problem with the approve-before- testing approach?
According to the EWG, nanosilver consists of manufactured, nanometer-scale particles of silver. According to research studies, these particles can be toxic to cells that develop into eggs or sperm in mammals. Recent studies also suggest that nanoparticles may penetrate the skin, cross cell membranes to reach the interior of cells, enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier and may be toxic when inhaled, especially to people with respiratory diseases such as asthma.
What’s the complaint?
In comments filed with EPA last week, EWG said:
The agency’s willingness to introduce this product on the American market is simply baffling. Even as it proposes to grant the Swiss nanosilver coating access to the U.S. market for the next four years under a conditional registration, the agency expresses many qualms about its potential to harm people and the environment. The proposal acknowledges bluntly that EPA “lacks information to conduct a complete assessment of the potential risks to human health and the environmental associated with the use of AGS-20,” that there is “considerable uncertainty about the risk assessment” and that “more extensive product chemistry, toxicology, exposure, and environmental data are necessary to… provide an accurate assessment of the risks.
EWG’s full comments as submitted to EPA are available here.
What to do about smelly clothes?
Many companies infuse athletic clothing with antimicrobial coatings, advertising them as effective in reducing odor. Nanosilver can kill bacteria on contact, but washing clothes regularly works just as well. The hygiene advantages of nanosilver-treated articles are slim and may be temporary. The disadvantages are obvious: people of all ages, including children, would be exposed to a new nanosilver formulation while wearing treated clothes. Nanosilver can migrate into washing machines and onto other clothing, into wash water and from there into the general water supply. It can contaminate groundwaters and animal and plant habitat. Once nanosilver pollutes the environment, reversing that contamination is very likely impossible. Until EPA develops a solid scientific basis for assuring the public that nanosilver presents no danger to people and the environment, EWG argues that the Swiss company should not be granted a permit to market its textile coating.
Better underwear options:
Uranus underwear, a soy fabric product that’s not as sophomoric as it sounds