Conflicting opinions about the risks of antibacterial silver

January 31, 2014 by Karin Ljungklint, Chalmers University of Technology
Silver is a basic element used for, among other things, jewellery and electronics. Antibacterial silver is used to prevent microbial growth in different applications. Traditionally, it is used within health care as a bacterial agent for certain kinds of injuries. Recently, it has begun to be used within a number of consumer products, such as bus handles, flat-nosed pliers, exercise clothing and dog food bowls. New research indicates it is probably silver ions that are released from the silver that provide the antibacterial effect when coming into contact with bacteria.

Silver is used increasingly often as a bacterial agent in clothing and hygiene products, but there are conflicting opinions as to its effects on people and the environment. According to researchers at Chalmers and Gothenburg University, the use of environmental assessment methods could clarify the points of this debate.

In an article in the Journal of Cleaner Production, Dr Rickard Arvidsson of Energy and Environment and Max Boholm, project assistant at Global Studies (GU), describe how the Swedish debate is characterized by a long list of conflicting arguments. According to the opposition, the silver products damage health, environment, water and sewage. Supporters highlight silver's and the environmental benefits achieved by less washing. And in the middle of this difficult confrontation are found the consumers and decision makers.

'The foundation of my research is that we should learn from history and not use any substances before we know the consequences. What's interesting in this case, is that the various actors are reasoning from two completely different perspectives but from exactly the same values; product quality, environment, health and sewage treatment.

'Both sides probably think they have sufficient knowledge about antibacterial silver, but the fact that opinions are so divided indicates that more research is required,' said Rickard Arvidsson.

Present environment and sustainability assessment methods, such as , substance flow analysis and risk assessment, ought to be able to throw new light on this conflict. The methods could handle several aspects of the debate and thus provide further information concerning the risks of using antibacterial silver. However, these methods do not cover the issue of antibacterial resistance.

'The environmental assessment methods I use do not include that kind of problem, i.e. resistance in micro-organisms. Method development and further research would be necessary in order to provide society with answers as to whether antibacterial silver causes anti-biotic resistance or not.'

Explore further: Nanosilver from clothing can pose major environmental problems

More information: Max Boholm, Rickard Arvidsson, "Controversy over antibacterial silver: implications for environmental and sustainability assessments," Journal of Cleaner Production, Available online 28 December 2013, ISSN 0959-6526.

Related Stories

Spinning up antibacterial silver on glass

June 27, 2013

The antibacterial effects of silver are well established. Now, researchers at Yonsei University in Seoul, Republic of Korea, have developed a technique to coat glass with a layer of silver ions that can prevent growth of ...

Greener methods for making popular nanoparticle

April 24, 2013

Already renowned for its beneficial effects on human health, green tea could have a new role—along with other natural plant-based substances—in a healthier, more sustainable production of the most widely used family of ...

Investigating the environmental impact of nanosilver

April 22, 2013

When it comes to materials used in the fight against bacteria, silver may not be the first substance which comes to mind. However, the precious metal has been used in the medical industry as a biocide - a substance which ...

Nanosilver in textiles – friend or foe?

April 12, 2013

Antimicrobial silver nanoparticles may enable people to use textiles in an environmentally more sustainable way, even though a question mark remains on their potential risks

Eco-safe antibacterial fibre discovered

February 14, 2013

(—Researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have discovered an antibacterial polymer that can be used in everyday products such as sportswear, diapers and bandages, without causing resistant ...

Recommended for you

Fast computer control for molecular machines

January 19, 2018

Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed a novel electric propulsion technology for nanorobots. It allows molecular machines to move a hundred thousand times faster than with the biochemical processes ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.