The environmentalist’s dilemma: whether to trust amazing new green products

Should we trust, for example, silver dihydrogen citrate? SDC is a molecule developed by a California company, Pure Bioscience, that claims it can kill just about any sort of bacteria, fungus or virus–from the odiferous ones that dwell in our armpits to the inconvenient ones that thrive on locker room floors to the monstrous ones that eat our flesh–without doing any harm to us, our animals, or our environment. (Except for the environment’s bacterial, fungal and viral elements, of course: it lays waste to those.) Here’s how it works:
Hungry germs are attracted to the citrate part of the molecule, which they recognize as a food source. Then microscopic particles of ionized silver, an antimicrobial agent, emerge and destroy the germ cells….
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has registered it as a disinfectant — a substance that wipes out the entire population of a given micro-organism — for hard surfaces like countertops. The molecule, used in a consumer product called PureGreen 24, can kill off salmonella and listeria in 30 seconds, according to the product label; it needs 10 minutes to eliminate athlete’s foot, the rhinovirus and the Hong Kong flu. In Europe, meanwhile, where regulators have approved silver dihydrogen citrate as an antimicrobial agent for personal care products, Beiersdorf has introduced antiperspirants and deodorants called Nivea for Men Silver Protect….
As much as we want to control germs, we have learned to resist the idea of a more powerful disinfectant. What if it kills off so many microbes that we lose our natural ability to fight germs? What if some bacteria begin to resist the allure of citrate? What if the pico-sized — that is, smaller than a nanometer — silver ions have downstream effects? What if we fear a smarter germ killer as much as, or more than, we fear the germ itself?
Of course, our environmental remediators are busy cleaning up a whole history of miracle products: asbestos fibers are miraculous at resisting heat, and at getting into lungs and causing cancer. Tetrachloroethylene can’t be beat for removing dirt from clothing, nor for seeping through sewer pipes into groundwater and causing cancer. Agent Orange is just fabulous at convincing trees to drop their leaves… etc.
I, for one, am thinking about giving SDC a try. It’s pretty much a crap shoot, and at some point, you’ve just got to close your eyes and roll the dice. Right? The New York Times article includes a reassuring photo of Pure Bioscience’s CEO, Michael Krall, spraying pico-sized silver ions into his own mouth. That’s convincing. What could possibly go wrong?

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