7,000 Australians die each year from infections picked up in hospitals. This shocking loss of life is four times the annual road toll. Overuse of antibiotics has contributed to the problem, by promoting the development of more powerful bacteria that are resistant to treatment. Now, in a new Friends of the Earth report, leading microbiologists have warned that the rapid rise in household antibacterial products containing nano-silver could put more lives at risk.

Dozens of socks, shoe inserts, sports clothing and towels now marketed as ‘anti-bacterial’ or ‘odour controlling’ use nanoparticles of silver to kill the bacteria that cause odour. Similarly, antibacterial soaps, acne treatments, toothbrushes, hair brushes, mattresses and cots, computer keyboards, refrigerators and other appliances, pet products and even water flasks contain nano-silver.

Our investigation has found that nano-silver products are sold by leading brands at major retailers including K-Mart, Big-W, Priceline, Rebel Sports and Kathmandu.

The current and former Presidents of the Australian Society for Microbiology  have told FoE that over-use of nano-silver in consumer products could breed bacterial resistance, undermining its use in hospitals. As resistance has developed to antibiotics and antimicrobials used in hospitals, nano-silver has become increasingly important as a medical germ-killer of last resort. It is now used in many Australian hospitals, in wound dressings and to stop the growth of bacteria on medical devices.

Worse, widespread use of nano-silver could promote further resistance to antibiotics and other drugs. Professor Hatch Stokes from the iThree Institute at the University of Technology, and past President of the Australian Society for Microbiology, has cautioned that: “If we start using nano-silver quite broadly in the environment, then not only will we have bacteria that are resistant to nano-silver, then I would bet that they’ll already be multi-drug [antibiotic] resistant as well.”

In an unprecedented critique of the federal government’s handling of nanotechnology health risks, in our report Professors Turnidge and Stokes, and the Australian National University’s Associate Professor Tom Faunce, describe nano-silver as a “policy failure”.


For media coverage of our report, visit:

Radio National story AM:


ABC News


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The West Australian