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Health and
Consumers
Are silver nanoparticles safe?
Implications for health, the environment
and microbial resistance
Silver is widely
used for its anti-
bacterial activity
in medical and
consumer prod-
ucts because of
its broad range
of activity and
lower toxicity
compared to
other bac-
t e r i c i d e s .
More and more products
use silver as nanoparticles because it
has a better bactericidal activity, and
therefore lower amounts may be applied.
Are these nanoparticles safe for your
health and for the environment? Could
microorganisms become resistant to the
effects of silver?
WHAT ARE NANOPARTICLES?
Nanoparticles refer to very small sized
materials and components that have
at least one dimension in the size range
of 1 - 100 nanometre (one nanometre
is one millionth of a millimetre). Due to
their size, these materials may specifically
interact with human cells and tissues.
The evaluation of the possible impact on
human health of nanoparticles is an on-
going process.
WHICH TYPES OF CONSUMER
PRODUCTS CONTAIN NANOSILVER?
Food packaging materials, food
supplements (for the moment not allowed
in the EU, unless specifically authorized),
textiles, electronics, household appliances,
cosmetics, medical devices, water
disinfectants and room sprays are just
some examples of products containing
nanosilver. Currently, products containing
nanosilver are difficult to track as they
are marketed under numerous brand
names. Moreover, current labelling
regulations, with a few exceptions, do not
specifically require listing nanomaterial as
a constituent.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS ON HEALTH?
The toxicity of silver, including nanoparticles
of silver, to humans is generally low. Skin
contact with textiles containing silver is one
of the main ways people are exposed to silver
nanoparticles. In general, consumer products
release only small amounts of silver, not
resulting in significant health effects.
WHAT ARE THE ENVIRONMENTAL
EFFECTS?
Silver in the environment comes from
its many uses in industry, in medical
applications, in water disinfection and in
consumer products. Silver as nanoparticle
represents only a small fraction of the
total amount of silver that enters into the
environment. However, silver in this form
may be more readily absorbed by some
species, posing a potential problem.
In Europe, silver compounds from
textiles and cosmetics have the greatest
environmental exposure when the water
used to wash them or rinse them off
is handled at wastewater treatment
plants. Subsequent silver release from
these wastewater treatment plants to
ground and surface waters is expected
to be low. Nevertheless, silver release
at concentrations toxic to some aquatic
organisms is possible, although unlikely.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS
FOR MICROBIAL RESISTANCE?
Some studies indicate that in some
occasions (in in vitro studies, but
not confirmed in in situ studies),
bacteria could become resistant to
the antibacterial effect of silver in
general. It is however currently not
possible to estimate whether or
not the use of silver nanoparticles
increases antimicrobial resistance.
This serious knowledge gap needs
further research.
Given the widespread and
increasing use of products
containing nanosilver, both
consumers and the environment
are exposed to new sources
of silver. Although there have
been no clear adverse effects
associated with exposure to
silver, additional effects caused
by the use of silver nanoparticles
cannot be ruled out and should
be further evaluated.
This fact sheet is based on the
opinion of the independent Scientific
Committee on Emerging and Newly
Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR):
‘Nanosilver: safety, health and
environmental effects and role in
antimicrobial resistance’.
This opinion is available at:
http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_
committees/emerging/opinions/
index_en.htm

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Are silver nanoparticles safe?

  • 1. Health and Consumers Are silver nanoparticles safe? Implications for health, the environment and microbial resistance Silver is widely used for its anti- bacterial activity in medical and consumer prod- ucts because of its broad range of activity and lower toxicity compared to other bac- t e r i c i d e s . More and more products use silver as nanoparticles because it has a better bactericidal activity, and therefore lower amounts may be applied. Are these nanoparticles safe for your health and for the environment? Could microorganisms become resistant to the effects of silver? WHAT ARE NANOPARTICLES? Nanoparticles refer to very small sized materials and components that have at least one dimension in the size range of 1 - 100 nanometre (one nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre). Due to their size, these materials may specifically interact with human cells and tissues. The evaluation of the possible impact on human health of nanoparticles is an on- going process. WHICH TYPES OF CONSUMER PRODUCTS CONTAIN NANOSILVER? Food packaging materials, food supplements (for the moment not allowed in the EU, unless specifically authorized), textiles, electronics, household appliances, cosmetics, medical devices, water disinfectants and room sprays are just some examples of products containing nanosilver. Currently, products containing nanosilver are difficult to track as they are marketed under numerous brand names. Moreover, current labelling regulations, with a few exceptions, do not specifically require listing nanomaterial as a constituent. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS ON HEALTH? The toxicity of silver, including nanoparticles of silver, to humans is generally low. Skin contact with textiles containing silver is one of the main ways people are exposed to silver nanoparticles. In general, consumer products release only small amounts of silver, not resulting in significant health effects. WHAT ARE THE ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS? Silver in the environment comes from its many uses in industry, in medical applications, in water disinfection and in consumer products. Silver as nanoparticle represents only a small fraction of the total amount of silver that enters into the environment. However, silver in this form may be more readily absorbed by some species, posing a potential problem. In Europe, silver compounds from textiles and cosmetics have the greatest environmental exposure when the water used to wash them or rinse them off is handled at wastewater treatment plants. Subsequent silver release from these wastewater treatment plants to ground and surface waters is expected to be low. Nevertheless, silver release at concentrations toxic to some aquatic organisms is possible, although unlikely. WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR MICROBIAL RESISTANCE? Some studies indicate that in some occasions (in in vitro studies, but not confirmed in in situ studies), bacteria could become resistant to the antibacterial effect of silver in general. It is however currently not possible to estimate whether or not the use of silver nanoparticles increases antimicrobial resistance. This serious knowledge gap needs further research. Given the widespread and increasing use of products containing nanosilver, both consumers and the environment are exposed to new sources of silver. Although there have been no clear adverse effects associated with exposure to silver, additional effects caused by the use of silver nanoparticles cannot be ruled out and should be further evaluated. This fact sheet is based on the opinion of the independent Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR): ‘Nanosilver: safety, health and environmental effects and role in antimicrobial resistance’. This opinion is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_ committees/emerging/opinions/ index_en.htm