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Posted: Dec 16, 2010

Experts study environmental impact of silver nanoparticles in textiles

(Nanowerk News) The use of silver nano-particles in all kinds of consumer goods in daily use, such as personal hygiene articles, cosmetics, food, refrigerators, protective plant sprays and, above all, textiles, has considerable commercial potential and is increasing all the time. Although over 1000 kilograms of nano-silver is already being used each year in environmentally sensitive areas, extremely little is yet known about its effects on the environment.
SEM image of a textile fibre to which silver nanoparticles have been applied to increase its UV protection factor
SEM image of a textile fibre to which silver nanoparticles have been applied to increase its UV protection factor.
With the aim of confirming that textiles treated with silver nano-particles do not cause any harm, researchers at the Hohenstein Institute in Bönnigheim, together with 16 partners from research institutions, industry and the regulatory authorities, are working on a major project to investigate the behaviour, whereabouts and effect of the particles in the environment. The results of the undertaking, which will be carried out in response to the call by the BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) for research projects on "NanoNature: nano technologies for environmental protection" may be of use to the textile industry in increasing its competitiveness and to the general public by improving people's health and environmental conditions.
Under the project management of the University of Bremen, the Hohenstein Institute has been made responsible as sub-project leader for the practical application of actual products. When textile products treated with silver nano-particles are used in everyday life, they represent an unknown ecological factor on which the Hohenstein Institute for Textile Innovation would like to shed some light for the first time.
The antimicrobial effect of nano-particles of silver, which has been used for centuries, not least for purifying drinking water, prevents textiles becoming colonised by pathogenic or odour-forming bacteria. Textiles treated in this way are used for all kinds of purposes: medical textiles (special underwear for sufferers of neurodermatitis, operating theatre gowns, bandages), sport and leisure wear, protective working clothes, domestic textiles (e.g. blankets, curtains) and technical textiles (e.g. cleaning cloths, filters). During production or when they are rubbed during use, during washing and when they are disposed of, the antimicrobial effect of silver can affect processes in various media in the environment.
Project leader Dr. Claßen would like to prove that this does not cause any harm to the microflora in the water, soil and ground water: "With this major project, we are closing a big gap in textile research. The data we obtain in the project about the characteristic features of the size, shape and surface properties of silver nano-particles will form an important basis for assessing the risk that textiles treated with silver nano-particles pose to the environment."
Source: Hohenstein Institut
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