A court ruling yesterday (7 November) aims to limit public exposure to antimicrobial nanosilver used in clothing and other textiles.

In a lawsuit has been closely watched as a test case for the growing use of nanotechnology in consumer products, the court decided the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had improperly approved the use of nanosilver by one US textile manufacturer - and sent the approval back to the agency for re-evaluation.

"The court's ruling puts us a step closer toward removing nanosilver from textiles," said Mae Wu, an attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Health Program.

"EPA shouldn't have approved nanosilver in the first place. This is just one of a long line of decisions by the agency treating people and our environment as guinea pigs and laboratories for these untested pesticides."

NRDC sued the EPA in early 2012 to limit the use of nanosilver out of a concern for public health.

Yesterday's ruling agreed that the EPA had ignored its own rules for determining the safety of nanosilver.

The case was triggered back in December 2011, when EPA approved HeiQ Materials to sell nanosilver used in fabrics for the next four years and required the company to provide data on toxicity for human health and aquatic organisms.

While the EPA had determined there was no risk concern for toddlers exposed to nanosilver-treated textiles, the court found it approved the pesticide despite having data showing that nanosilver was at the level that should have triggered a finding of potential risk.

Silver, a well-recognised antimicrobial, is highly toxic and kills both harmful and beneficial bacteria.

Nanosilver is engineered from silver and marketed as an even stronger antimicrobial than silver. Its use in fabrics, food storage containers, hair dryers and other products continues to grow, despite potential dangerous health effects, according to the NRDC.