We’ve been talking recently about silver nanoparticles and ifnanosilver will be the new amalgam. This week, we’ll try to piece together some of the scientific evidence about nanotechnology.
Nanomaterials have been defined by the EPA as “particles that have been intentionally produced to have at least one dimension that measures between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers.” That’s pretty tiny, given that there are one billion nanometers in one meter.
Why Newly-Discovered Ingredients Do Not Always Belong in Toothpaste
People tend to get enthusiastic about new technologies, but sometimes being an early adopter isn’t a good idea.
Case in point: Doramad toothpaste, manufactured in Germany between 1940-45. The toothpaste contained radioactive thorium.
“Its radioactive radiation increases the defenses of teeth and gums,”read the package. “The cells are loaded with new life energy, the bacteria are hindered in their destroying effect. This explains the excellent prophylaxis and healing process with gingival diseases.” (source)
Doramad is not the only radioactive toothpaste to have been manufactured, but the story behind this World War II toothpaste is particularly interesting, involving resourceful German scientists looking for other applications for their atomic research.
The Safety of Nanomaterials
Nanoparticles behave quite differently from their regular-sized counterparts. Their comparatively large surface area increases their biological activity. Moreover, the particles themselves are much smaller than cells. Nanoparticles can be absorbed through the skin, eyes or nose. They can even cross the blood-brain barrier.
For example, although titanium dioxide is biologically inert, nano-titanium dioxide particles have been shown to damage DNA. Nano-titanium dioxide is estimated to be in over 10,000 consumer products today, including cosmetics, medicines and toothpaste.
Another major nanotech invention, carbon nanotubes have amazing strength. Unfortunately, they can also cause more lung damage than asbestos.
Nanomaterials are also ending up in our food. A thin nano coating can extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. Nano ingredients can make cake mixes pour more easily. Food scientists say that nanomaterials can enhance flavor, preserve freshness, or even protect the safety of our food supply.
But foods containing nano ingredients aren’t labeled as such, and the FDA isn’t regulating them.
A number of studies have indicated possible negative health effects from nanomaterials, but the scientific evidence is not yet clear. The FDA, for its part, is concerned about things that have been proven to be dangerous, but is more lax when it comes to things that have not yet proven either safe or dangerous.
Regulating Nano Products
When it comes to consumer products, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the EPA are in charge. And while the EPA is not quite as laissez-faire as the FDA, their stance on nanotechnology isn’t clear either.
In 2008, the EPA fined a California company a whopping $200,000 for selling keyboards and mouses with a nanosilver coating. According to the EPA, these products should have been registered under federal pesticide law. Notably, the EPA has not issued any such fines since then. (Read more: Science Daily)
What’s the Deal with Nanosilver?
Silver is a known environmental hazard. (In fact, environmental problems were observed when silver was commonly used to develop photos.) Only mercury can be more toxic to aquatic life. And nanosilver is more biologically active than normal silver.
And now we have unregulated nanosilver in hundreds of consumer products, including toothpaste.