A Warning About New Washing Machines and Nanotechnology

As you know, I'm a major fan of nanotechnology, except when it comes to exposing your body to these complex molecular machines, as seen in a recent study on brain-damaging sunscreens. While I welcome this radical breakthrough, I remain very concerned about nanotechnology being another form of pollution that could cause more harm than good.

If you've been eyeing a new washing machine lately (particularly from Samsung Electronics) be aware the EPA recently ruled models that use silver ions -- made of a bioaccumulating, persistent and toxic metal -- as a disinfectant must be registered as a pesticide.

Unfortunately, the EPA ruling may be quite a toothless one, due to the existence of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act that allows product manufacturers to sidestep any registration provisions, merely by deleting the claim that silver can kill bacteria.

By the way, other companies like The Sharper Image have taken the hint by removing germ-killing claims from such products as socks, food containers and slippers.

In the meantime, various industries have warned the widespread use of household products like this washer could increase silver concentrations at water treatment plants that could very well bioaccumulate in fish and kill some aquatic life.

Environmental Science & Technology January 3, 2007