In the face of growing concerns about the toxicity risks that nano silver poses to environmental systems and human health, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced recently that it would move to introduce the world’s first nanotechnology-specific regulations. The US EPA will now move to regulate products that contain nano silver and claim to act as “anti-bacterial” as pesticides, including Samsung’s “Nano Silver” range of appliances (washing machine, refrigerator, vacuum cleaner and air conditioner).

Concerns have been mounting that nano silver poses unacceptable risks to beneficial bacteria in environmental systems and to human health. In 2005, a public backlash and concern from government regulators prompted the temporary withdrawal of Samsung’s “Nano Silver” washing machine from sale in Sweden, although it is now back on the market. Friends of the Earth Germany has also called for the washing machine’s withdrawal from the German market.

Samsung’s “Nano Silver” washing machine will release nano silver directly into waste water systems. Nano silver is a powerful anti-bacterial. Samsung’s own advertising claims that its nano silver products will “sterilise over 650 types of bacteria”. There is a real risk that effluent containing nano silver could kill beneficial bacteria and disrupt ecosystem functioning.

In vitro scientific studies published in “Toxicological Sciences” and “Toxicology In Vitro” demonstrate that nano silver is also highly toxic to mammalian brain cells, stem cells and liver cells. It is completely unacceptable that products containing nano silver should have been allowed on to the market in the absence of regulations requiring safety testing.

In light of mounting evidence of nano silver’s toxicity, and the US EPA’s decision to regulate products such as Samsung’s washing machine as a pesticide, Friends of the Earth Australia calls on Samsung to recall its “Nano Silver” range from sale in Australia until peer-reviewed studies can demonstrate its safety for the environment and human health.

Given the poorly understood toxicity risks of nanoparticles, the threat they pose to the health of workers, the public and environmental systems, and the absence of regulatory systems to manage these risks, Friends of the Earth Australia repeats our call for an immediate moratorium on the release of products containing nanoparticles. Products containing nanoparticles should not be on the market in the absence of regulations to protect the environment and the public from risk.