Environmental impact of nanosilver in products

Life Cycle Assessment and Release Studies for 15 Nanosilver-Enabled Consumer Products: Investigating Hotspots and Patterns of Contribution

A 2017 study has analysed the environmental impact of 15 products containing nanosilver, highlighting the contribution of this novel material to the items’ overall environmental burden.

Abstract

Increasing use of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) in consumer products as antimicrobial agents has prompted extensive research toward the evaluation of their potential release to the environment and subsequent ecotoxicity to aquatic organisms. It has also been shown that AgNPs can pose significant burdens to the environment from life cycle emissions associated with their production, but these impacts must be considered in the context of actual products that contain nanosilver. Here, a cradle-to-gate life cycle assessment for the production of 15 different AgNP-enabled consumer products was performed, coupled with release studies of those same products, thus providing a consistent analytical platform for investigation of potential nanosilver impacts across a range of product types and concentrations. Environmental burdens were assessed over multiple impact categories defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts (TRACI 2.1) method. Depending on the product composition and silver loading, the contribution of AgNP synthesis to the overall impacts was seen to vary over a wide range from 1% to 99%. Release studies found that solid polymeric samples lost more silver during wash compared to fibrous materials. Estimates of direct ecotoxicity impacts of AgNP releases from those products with the highest leaching rates resulted in lower impact levels compared to cradle-to-gate ecotoxicity from production for those products. Considering both cradle-to-gate production impacts and nanoparticle release studies, in conjunction with estimates of life cycle environmental and health benefits of nanoparticle incorporation, can inform sustainable nanoenabled product design.

More Information

  • Life Cycle Assessment and Release Studies for 15 Nanosilver-Enabled Consumer Products: Investigating Hotspots and Patterns of Contribution, Environmental Science & Technology, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b05923, May 24, 2017.
  • Relative environmental impact of nanosilver in products may be marginal compared with impacts of other components, Science for Environment Policy Issue 499, 20 December 2017.

EPA sued by Nonprofits for failure to regulate Nanosilver Pesticides

Nanomaterials have proliferated in food and other consumer products with little to no oversight

image of Nanotechnology product
Nanomaterials have proliferated in food and other consumer products with little to no oversight.
Image credit @TrueFoodNow

There are now over 400 consumer products on the market made with nanosilver. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers silver nanoparticles a pesticide and requires products that contain – or are treated with this germ- killer – to be registered with and approved for use by the agency. But most of the nanomaterials products now on the market have not been reviewed, let alone approved by the EPA.
Two weeks ago, in an attempt to close this loophole, the Center for Food Safety, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Production Action, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and other nonprofits filed suit against the EPA for failing to respond to their 2008 petition, asking the agency to regulate all products created with nanotechnology as pesticides.

Sources and more information

  • Nonprofits Sue EPA for Failure to Regulate Novel Pesticide Products Created With Nanotechnology, centerforfoodsafety, December 17th, 2014.
  • “There’s Nano in Our Food?” What You Need to Know about Nanotechnology and Food Safety, centerforfoodsafety, April 10th, 2014.
  • Oral ingestion of silver nanoparticles induces genomic instability and DNA damage in multiple tissues, informahealthcare, April 9, 2014.
  • Nanosilver in Your Soup? EPA Sued For Failing to Regulate Tiny Pesticides, civileats, December 30, 2014.