Mamavation has talked a lot about the dangers of toxins in our food supply, our homes and on our lawns. Most of us are aware of the dangers of BPA, GMOs, pesticides and more, but did you know that a hot, new technology is putting invisible, untested elements into your home?
Nanotechnology is the science of producing particles that are many times smaller than the width of a human hair . Right now, there is very little regulation for this technology. Earlier this month, “The Oregonian” reported the Environmental Protection Agency warned a New Jersey company to stop using nanosilver as a pesticide in their food storage containers. The company, Pathway Investment Corp., claims that the nanosilver they use in their Kinetic Go Green and Kinetic Smartwist storage containers destroys or controls mold, fungus or bacteria. The EPA will not allow such a claim barring further testing to ensure that these elements do what they claim.
The Center for Food Safety (CFS) applauded the ruling for a different reason. They believe that products made with nanoparticles, such as nanosilver, are entering the market too rapidly and without proper regulation, posing a safety threat for consumers. These products include everyday household items that consumers regularly buy, including fabrics used in socks, toys, pacifiers, sunscreen, sporting goods, cosmetics, kitchenware, cell phones, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, jewelry, bedding, pesticides, to name a few. In addition, nanotechnology has made its way into food products because of its ability to extend shelf life and kill germs. Companies that have used it include Kraft Foods, Unilever and Nestle. Food packaging is the biggest culprit here, from beer bottles to meat packaging.
What Is Nano Silver and Is It Safe?
Historically, silver has been used for antimicrobial, anti-parasitic disinfectant and anti-bacterial purposes although no EPA-approved testing on this claim exists. Nanosilver is simply a form of this element that is microscopic in size – about 800 times smaller than a blood cell – giving scientists the ability to place it in never-before-reached areas. You may have heard of colloidal silver, which is a form of silver sometimes used as a supplement. They both have the same root but are different in configuration.
The use of nanosilver in the production of items such as washing machines, electric razors, clothing, linens, paints and more has become more popular in recent years. The EPA has set safety guidelines for silver exposure but as a naturally occurring element, it can be found in many common places, such as in your water, making your risk of exposure difficult to assess. Potential safety issues for nanosilver include:
- Argyria: Overexposure to silver particles can cause this blue or gray discoloration of the skin – and it’s irreversible.
- Interference with DNA: Silver prevents DNA from replicating properly and has been shown to damage to fish embryos, according to a 2013 study.
- Environmental harm: Nanosilver released into the water by the companies using it has the potential to damage fish and water ecosystems.
- Medical harm: Because it can destroy bacteria, it may be harmful for beneficial gut bacteria in humans and animals, including developing embryos.
- Resistant pathogens: According to CFS’ PDF report on nanotechnology, nanosilver’s antimicrobial qualities when used as a pesticide could help develop “pathogens resistant to nano silver germ-killing properties” – in other words, it can help lead to the creation of more superbugs.
- Difficult to remove: The ability to clean pear skin of nanosilver was studied by Mengshi Lin, associate professor of food science in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Nanosilver traces remained even after cleaning. Particles of this size can easily move into systems and circulate throughout the body.
Nano Technology: An Untested New Trend
Nanosilver is just one of a number of these microscopic “nanoparticles” used manufacturing today. Particles that are many times smaller than molecules don’t necessarily react the same way that standard elements do. In 2012, the use of zinc oxide and titanium oxide nanoparticles in sunscreen was debated. Studies showed those nanoparticles did not penetrate the skin, but there is more to the story. The Environmental Working Group’s report “Nanoparticles in Sunscreens” states that nanoparticles differ widely in how they affect an organism “depending on their size, shape and coatings.” In addition, nanoparticles of titanium dioxide in the spray form of sunscreens can easily be inhaled or ingested and pose a greater health risk.
Because the effects of nanoparticles vary so much, it’s difficult for the EPA to create a blanket rule governing them despite their presence in so many of our everyday products and household items. We will need to keep an eye on this issue as it progresses.
Want to learn more about nano technology and it’s rapid growth? The CFS has created a downloadable PDF report, “Nano Exposed: A Citizen’s Guide to Nanotechnology,” released December 2010, with everything you need to help you understand the science behind nanotechnology, its uses today and how this particular branch of science can hold potential dangers for our future.