Friends of the Earth (FOE) released the above entitled report, written by Dr. Rye Senten and Ian Illuminato, in June of this year. As with their earlier report on nanotechnology and farming (discussed here ), Nano & Biocidal Silver comes to three conclusions:
1 Nanotechnology and its products, in this case, nanosilver, will destroy the environment and cause the death of humanity
2 Nanotechnology is the result of a conspiracy between government and big business against consumers
3 The only solution is an immediate moratorium on nano-anything.
This report, as with its earlier one, does raise some legitimate concerns:
The disposal of biocidal silver products into waste water raises a number of concerns as the resulting sewage sludge may be used on agricultural soils, disposed as solid waste into landfills or be incinerated. Biocidal silver may also disrupt the functioning of key soil microbial communities.
But for every legitimate concern raised or useful suggestion, such as changing la belling requirements so that products containing nanosilver or other nanoproducts have them clearly listed on the packaging so that consumers are aware of what they’re buying and can either purchase the product or one that doesn’t contain any nano-products, there are suggestions that the use of nanosilver in medicine or consumer products is the result of digital photography:
From an economic point of view, with the demise of the photographic industry, silver producers were desperately needing to find new markets for silver. It appears this quest has been successful, industrial and electronic applications of silver, along with the ever increasing uses for silver biocides, have easily made up for this loss.
In other sections of the report the discussion of the use of nanosilver gives way to a condemnation of capitalism and industrial production, suggesting that corporations and governments are allied in a conspiracy against workers and consumers:
In many respects, the increasing use of nanosilver is a typical example of what Gould (2005) has called "the technological treadmill of production". The purpose of this treadmill is growth in the form of an increased corporate profitability at the expense of workers and the environment and it "depends directly on technological innovation to replace human labor with capital and to increase the capacity for the transformation of natural resources into commodities". . . . the treadmill increases profits and environmental threats while reducing the generation of social benefits (employment, wages, etc) "ensuring constant increases in social and environmental inequality". . . . A hallmark of the technology treadmill of production is that, despite claims to the contrary, the economic benefits of any form of nanotechnology will accrue to corporations and governments, while the economic costs will be born by the citizens and the environment.
In other sections, there are discussions which are just downright bizarre:
One of the unanswered questions is, ‘why has silver suddenly become so popular?’. By extension, we must also ask, ‘why are we so afraid of bacteria and dirt?’. Tomes (2009) points out that our current obsession with germs has parallels with a similar period of intense anxiety about disease causing agents between 1900 and 1940. It is her contention that this ‘new’ fear of germs reflects our anxieties about globalization, the environment, suspicions of governmental authority, and distrust of expert knowledge.
I doubt that anyone pouring hydrogen peroxide over a cut is doing it because they don’t trust the government or experts or because they’re worried about globalization.
Throughout the report, the authors assert that exposure to nanosilver is dangerous and could lead to the nervous system being adversely affected, but then almost immediately cast doubt on their own assertions:
There is a risk to consumers if nanosilver particles could migrate from food contacts materials into food or drink and could be subsequently ingested. . . . preliminary work by Chaudhry et al (2008) does indeed indicate that some nanosilver particle migrate into food, but perhaps at an insignificant level.
. . . While readily absorbed into the human body through food and other means, silver is not an acknowledged trace element, but appears not to cause any major diseases.
. . . Clearly workers in industries using silver or increasingly nanosilver are most vulnerable to occupational exposure and strict occupational health and safety standards must be implemented and their compliance subsequently monitored.
It is presently no known how to determine if the human central nervous system is vulnerable to silver toxicity at at what dose. While there is some evidence that silver may cross the blood brain barrier . . . the evidence is inconclusive and silver deposits do not appear to result in detectable neurological damage.
The authors also state that
FDA’s failure to take concurrent oversight action demonstrates the agency’s lack of urgency in protecting the public from the potential health and environmental risks of nanotechnology.
This despite earlier stating that nanosilver and other nanoparticles have not so far been connected to any illness, organ failure or any other negative result.
The authors, at the end of the report, make a list of demands on governments:
Friends of the Earth calls for an immediate moratorium on the commercial release of products that contain manufactured nanosilver until nanotechnology specific regulation is introduced to protect the public, workers and the environment from their risks and until the public is involved in decision making.
Friends of the Earth United States and Australia have furthermore called for the recall of Samsung;s silver appliance range (washing machine, vacuum cleaner, refrigerator, air conditioner, etc). . . . We believe similar measures should be enacted for clothing and other products that contain nanosilver
While calling for involving the public in creating new regulations, FOE proposes no method of doing so. This seems rather irresponsible and cynical at best. How should the public be involved- plebiscite? Mass meeting? FOE seems to expect that it will happen spontaneously. The public can already be involved in creating new regulations. On both the state and federal levels, proposed regulations are published in the Federal Register and its state level equivalents; the prosed regulations and rules contain contact information and how to submit comments for or against the proposed regulations, either via e-mail or the old fashioned way, a letter. Citizens can also contact their elected representatives and express their opinion.
While the report does raise point that are areas of concern that should be further examined and while it does make one or two useful suggestions, on balance, the report fails. This is not by any means an objective report and ultimately it collapses under the weight of the socio-economic-political baggage that FOE has placed upon it.