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Science

Consequences of the use of Silver Nanoparticles in clothing

silver nano-particles in socksRecent studies have indicated that excessive use of nano-silver in human products can have an adverse effect on the environment. In modern times silver based nano-particles have been used in clothing and if their usage continues it will have a severe impact on the environment. Basically if every person purchases one silver nano-particle processed piece of clothing per year the overall concentration of silver in the sludge produced by water treatment plants can double. This is a shocking statistic as a waste water plant is not equipped to treat silver compounds and hence all this silver is dumped as sludge back into the environment.

Another cause for concern is the practice of using the sludge as agricultural fertilizer. This can cause long term harm to the environment. These findings have been brought to light due to the research of Rickard Arvidsson. Arvidsson has strongly spoken out supporting his research which touched upon the risks and harmful side effects linked with using nano-materials. The field of nano-materials has many knowledge gaps and developers have gone forward with commercial production without analyzing all the risks involved. Arvidsson has come up with fresh methods to study the harmful effects of nano-particles. He has also concentrated on specific materials used to make nano-particles such as silver.

Silver nanoparticles possess an anti-bacterial property and are therefore employed in a wide range of products such as sports apparel. They are used due to their ability to prevent the odour caused by sweat. The problem arises when the silver containing clothes are washed. The silver nano-particles get released and enter the waste water plants system through the water. The nano-particles release silver ions which are not broken down by the water treatment process or by natural methods present in the environment. These silver ions remain in the environment and pose a threat to the ecological system since silver ions are highly toxic to many living organisms.

Rickard Arvidsson believes that the amount of nano-silver emissions resulting from clothing is extremely large already. He says that if silver nano-material use in clothing further increases then results can be catastrophic for the environment. For example if the silver laced sludge released from the water treatment plant is used as fertilizer then silver can accumulate in the soil leading to long term damage to the soil ecosystem. Sludge from water treatment plants has a high concentration of phosphorous. Hence using this sludge as fertilizer is done in order to return the phosphorous to the soil. Taking into account the scarcity of phosphorous in the world the using this sludge is an excellent idea but at the same time the amount of contaminants in the sludge has to be monitored.

Arvidsson engaged in a research study at Sweden’s Gothernburg water treatment plant. The results were an eye opener for many. The study showed that the effect on the sludge produced and soil if the same sludge was used as fertilizer was fully dependent on the amount of silver that was used in manufacturing clothing. The concentration of silver in the clothing was studied and it varied be a large amount. The range of silver concentration was found to be from 0.003 mg/kg to 1400 mg/kg.

With lower concentrations there was no discernible effect on the sludge or agricultural land even if the use of silver materials in the clothing increased significantly. But according to Rickard Arvidsson for the highest concentration it would be enough for all the residents of the city to each use one nano-particle sock for a year to cause the concentration of silver-ions in water treatment plant sludge to double. The use of silver materials in fabrics is relatively a new development and it is proving tough to calculate any patterns to the total amount of silver being used. Nevertheless, to avoid any harmful effects on the environment the use of silver compounds in clothing and the consumption of nano-silver processed clothing must be limited.

Silver nano-particles release silver ions which are toxic to bacteria and many higher organisms. In recent times the usage of silver nano-particles as an antibacterial agent has increased in a wide range of products including clothing. The silver is soon washed out of the material and broken down into ions. Silver can be completely absent in the clothing after just ten washes. The silver ions then proceed to enter the waste water plant though the water. The water treatment plan cannot break down the silver ions and they end up in the sludge. Silver ions have a long life span and are toxic even at low concentrations for many living organisms including aquatic life. It also is reported to induce resistance in bacteria against antibiotics. The silver is hazardous to water treatment plants as they can interfere with the biological treatment process.