Nanomaterials May Soon be in Your Sportswear and Underwear

Washington, D.C – Environmental Working Group (EWG) has sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opposing its proposal to approve a Swiss nanosilver textile coating for sale in the U.S.

EPA announced last month it was considering the application of the Swiss company HeiQ Materials Ag to market the coating, called HeiQ AGS-20, as an antimicrobial treatment to help control odor in clothing, including children’s athletic wear. 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:

In comments filed with EPA yesterday, 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. “

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.

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.

EWG’s full comments as submitted to EPA are available here.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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