By Lynn L. Bergeson and Timothy D. Backstrom
On December 16, 2014, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and its affiliate the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA), along with a coalition of other non-governmental organizations, brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit concerns a May 1, 2008, petition by these organizations requesting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take regulatory action concerning nanoscale silver (nanosilver) products, including classifying nanosilver as a pesticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Since receiving the CFS/ICTA petition, EPA has taken a number of incremental steps to regulate nanosilver. After inviting comment concerning the petition, EPA referred scientific issues concerning risks from and exposure to nanosilver to the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), announced that it would treat nanoscale pesticides (including nanosilver) as a separate pesticidal active ingredient, established new registration requirements for several specific nanosilver products, and initiated the registration review process for registered nanosilver products.
Notwithstanding these actions, EPA has not formally responded to the 2008 CFS/ICTA petition, and the petitioners have characterized the steps taken by EPA to date as “toothless.” Rather than contesting the suit, EPA may seek an agreement requiring EPA to respond formally to the petition by a specified date. Perhaps EPA will characterize the regulatory actions taken to date as a partial grant of the petition. On the other hand, many of the nearly 400 nanosilver products that CFS/ICTA claim EPA should regulate under FIFRA have no pesticidal claims or purpose or are being sold and distributed outside of the U.S. With respect to these products, EPA will likely respond that it has no authority to provide the relief sought by the petitioners.