Nano-silver is now one of the most commonly used nanomaterials. It is used in clothing, materials, food packaging, surfaces, appliances, toothbrushes and baby bottles. It is also a powerful anti-microbial that is used by hospitals for the treatment of wounds and ulcers.
Its widespread and unnecessary use in a variety of consumer products means that resistance is likely to develop, which will reduce the efficacy of nano-silver in circumstances where it is most needed. Additionally, there are concerns that the use of nano-silver may have impacts on human health. Nano-silver can penetrate biological barriers and attach itself to the outside of cells. Nanoscale silver can also enter the bloodstream and reach all organs of the body including the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, bone marrow and nervous tissue. Animal studies have shown placental transfer and foetal uptake of nano-silver.
Nano-silver waste that is not recycled will end up in the environment either as solid waste in landfills or on agricultural land, emission from wastewater treatment plants, or as residual waste from incineration plants. The anti-microbial strength of nano-silver, which makes it desirable in the treating of wounds, could pose a threat to the microbial communities in the environment. Nano-silver bioaccumulates in the soil and has been shown to have impacts on plants, micro-organisms and aquatic organisms. The rapidly growing number of products creates the possibility of a ‘mass discharge’ of nano-silver into the environment. Despite repeated calls from public health experts for the use of nano-silver to be restricted to medical treatment not consumer goods, no action has yet been taken by the Australian Government.