Silver nanoparticles could pose future environmental threat

Silver has become a popular product for anti-microbial properties, especially when used in the form of nanoparticles, but new research has shown there may be flow-on problems as this nanotechnology is released into the environment.

Scientists and environment groups have begun to warn that widespread use of nanosilver may pose risks to the environment, as the effects of exposure to particles may affect human health or have long-term effects in ecosystems.

Nanoparticles of silver are now used in a range of products, from Band-aids to socks, even as health tonics in the form of colloidal silver, but a study released in March said that nanosilver can be toxic for aquatic organisms, and even gain concentration as it moves up the food chain.

In the study from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, algae were exposed to silver ions, which are silver nanoparticles release in water.

Within fifteen minutes, the algae showed signs of being exposed to a toxin, including significant reduction of photosynthesis and a defense response.

Previous research has showed that silver ions are toxic to rainbow trout, causing eggs to hatch before they are fully developed and leading to high rates of death for the baby fish.

A separate research paper, published in the February issue of ACS Nano, studied the effects of nanosilver on human intestinal cells. Researchers found that exposure to nanosilver did damage to the cells’ DNA and temporarily changed their protein production.

However, there is no consensus within the scientific community, with other experts suggesting that anything can be harmful in large enough amounts.

University of Illinois microbiologist Simon Silver said that silver toxicity experiments with waste water containing silver from photo processing and from silver used to seed clouds for rain did not demonstrate any problems that could be compared with those caused by mercury, lead or arsenic.

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