According to a new study, silver nanoparticles in clothing can have a severe environmental impact on the environment. The nanosilver, which is toxic to bacteria and higher organisms, is released into water systems after clothing has been washed.
In a study conducted by Chalmers researcher Rickard Arvidsson, the risks associated with nanomaterials were addressed. Arvidsson has developed new methods to assess the risks of nanomaterials, as well as used the methods on a few specific materials such as silver nanoparticles.
Silver nanoparticles have an antibacterial effect, and are used in a variety of consumer products such as workout clothing to prevent the smell of sweat. When the clothes are washed, nanoparticles are released and enter waste water treatment plants through waste water. The particles release silver ions that cannot be broken down at waste water treatment plants or in nature.
“Clothing is considered to be a large source of nanosilver emissions already,” says Rickard Arvidsson. “If silver usage in clothing continues to increase, the consequences for the environment can be major. For example, silver can accumulate in soil if sludge from waste water treatment plants is used as fertilizer, which can result in long-term damage to soil ecosystems.”
The study was performed at Gothenburg’s waste water treatment plant in Sweden. Results show that the effect on sludge, and agricultural land if sludge is used as fertilizer, is entirely dependent on the amount of silver that manufacturers use in clothing.
“Using silver in clothing is a new technology, and it is still difficult to ascertain patterns for how much is being used. However, if the negative environmental impact is to be avoided, either the silver concentration in clothing or consumption of silver nanoparticle-treated clothing must be limited,” says Arvidsson.