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120 Years of Nanosilver History: Implications for Policy Makers

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journal contribution
posted on 15.02.2011, 00:00 by Bernd Nowack, Harald F. Krug, Murray Height
Nanosilver is one nanomaterial that is currently under a lot of scrutiny. Much of the discussion is based on the assumption that nanosilver is something new that has not been seen until recently and that the advances in nanotechnology opened completely new application areas for silver. However, we show in this analysis that nanosilver in the form of colloidal silver has been used for more than 100 years and has been registered as a biocidal material in the United States since 1954. Fifty-three percent of the EPA-registered biocidal silver products likely contain nanosilver. Most of these nanosilver applications are silver-impregnated water filters, algicides, and antimicrobial additives that do not claim to contain nanoparticles. Many human health standards for silver are based on an analysis of argyria occurrence (discoloration of the skin, a cosmetic condition) from the 1930s and include studies that considered nanosilver materials. The environmental standards on the other hand are based on ionic silver and may need to be re-evaluated based on recent findings that most silver in the environment, regardless of the original silver form, is present in the form of small clusters or nanoparticles. The implications of this analysis for policy of nanosilver is that it would be a mistake for regulators to ignore the accumulated knowledge of our scientific and regulatory heritage in a bid to declare nanosilver materials as new chemicals, with unknown properties and automatically harmful simply on the basis of a change in nomenclature to the term “nano”.