Nanotechnology is a powerful emerging technology for engineering nature at the atomic and molecular level. Nanoparticles are infinitesimally small, about 1000 times thinner than a human hair. At this scale, familiar substances change in ways that scientists may not expect or predict, presenting new toxicity risks. A growing body of scientific data suggests that nanoparticles can be harmful to our health and to the environment.
Nanomaterials are now being used in hundreds of consumer products, from toys to clothes to toothpaste. These new products are being commercialized largely outside of public view or debate and with few regulations to protect workers, the public and the environment.
As just one example of potential concerns, studies indicate that manufactured nanomaterials used in sunscreens have the potential to harm our health. When we shower or swim, the nanoparticles in sunscreens end up in our water systems — these substances could damage microbes that are helpful to ecosystems and could be absorbed up the food chain from smaller to larger organisms.
Friends of the Earth pushes policymakers in the U.S. and internationally to apply a precautionary approach to the regulation of nanotechnology by putting the health of people and the environment before corporate profits. We are also advocating for mandatory labeling of products that contain nanomaterials so that consumers can make informed decisions.
Friends of the Earth has published several groundbreaking reports on the prevalence and risks of nanomaterials to inform public debate and government solutions, and we work with a variety of partners around the world to monitor the increasing use of this technology and advance common principles for government oversight.
We are urging federal regulators to establish clear and binding rules around use of nanoparticles in food and consumer products and demand that all companies immediately remove nanoingredients from baby formula and other foods until regulations are in place.
It’s of real concern that these tiny particles are used in hundreds of consumer products, and now in infant formula, with minimal to no oversight. Companies and regulators must take extra care with a product fed to the most vulnerable among us.
This important decision is part of the transformation our government agencies must continue to pursue in order to protect the public from potentially dangerous products containing nanoscale ingredients.
This begs a further question: what happens when nanoparticles are released into the environment, and how will they be recycled? Nano-silver has been shown to be toxic to fish and other organisms in soil and water.
In 2006, Friends of the Earth released a groundbreaking report, “Nanomaterials, Sunscreens and Cosmetics: Small Ingredients, Big Risks.” Since then, we’ve released updated reports every year, sharing more and more about these alarming risks, which could affect consumers, workers, and the environment.
Furthermore, none of the nanocosmetics or nanosunscreens on the U.S. market are subject to a premarket safety assessment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would require special tests for effects unique to nanoscale ingredients before being put on the shelves (FDA, 2003).