Published on July 9th, 2009 | by Jennifer Lance
Beware of Silver Nanoparticles in Consumer Products
We’ve been taught to be afraid of germs, and consumer products are full of promises of protection. One of the recent advances in antimicrobial technology is silver nanoparticles, aka nano-silver. Nano-silver is found in a variety of consumer products, from washing machines to dishwashers. Previous concerns have been raised about the environmental consequences of nano-silver, as it does not discriminate between good and bad bacteria. Now, Friends of the Earth and Health Care Without Harm Europe are concerned nano-silver poses a public health threat.
Last year, a petition was sent to the FDA asking that nano-silver be regulated as a pesticide. Of particular concern is the effect nano-silver has on aquatic organisms when it enters are waterways. According to the Washington Post:
A recent study showed that when socks impregnated with nanosilver are washed, silver particles end up in the drain water. Another found that nanosilver inhibits the growth of beneficial bacteria that help break down harmful chemicals in wastewater treatment plants.
The risk of nano-silver goes beyond the environment to include human health. Silver has long been cited for its health benefits, but the particle size of nano-silver is a concern. Friends of the Earth explains:
Silver has long been known to be a potent antimicrobial agent. However, its use has exploded in recent years, in medical applications and also in many consumer products, including children’s toys, babies’ bottles, cosmetics, textiles, cleaning agents, chopping boards, refrigerators and dishwashers.
Much of the silver used in these products today is manufactured at the nano-scale, meaning it is present in extremely tiny particles that behave differently than larger particles and are especially potent. Studies suggest that the widespread use of nano-silver poses serious health and environmental risks and that it could promote anti-bacterial resistance, undermining its efficacy in a medical context.
Similar to what can occur with the overuse of antibiotics, nano-silver could also be contributing to “anti-bacterial resistance”. Friends of the Earth is asking for a moratorium on “the commercial release of products that contain manufactured nano-silver” until more research can be done. As a consumer, you can protect yourself from nano-silver by avoiding products that claim to be antimicrobial. Regular use of soap and hot water are sufficient to kill the majority of harmful germs and bacteria we encounter in our daily lives.