Tag Archives: Bernd Nowack

The Swiss come to a better understanding of nanomaterials

Just to keep things interesting, after the report suggesting most of the information that the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has on nanomaterials is of little value for determining risk (see my April 5, 2017 posting for more) the Swiss government has released a report where they claim an improved understanding of nanomaterials than they previously had due to further research into the matter. From an April 6, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

In the past six years, the [Swiss] National Research Programme “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64) intensively studied the development, use, behaviour and degradation of engineered nanomaterials, including their impact on humans and on the environment.

Twenty-three research projects on biomedicine, the environment, energy, construction materials and food demonstrated the enormous potential of engineered nanoparticles for numerous applications in industry and medicine. Thanks to these projects we now know a great deal more about the risks associated with nanomaterials and are therefore able to more accurately determine where and how they can be safely used.

An April 6, 2017 Swiss National Science Foundation press release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“One of the specified criteria in the programme was that every project had to examine both the opportunities and the risks, and in some cases this was a major challenge for the researchers,” explains Peter Gehr, President of the NRP 64 Steering Committee.

One development that is nearing industrial application concerns a building material strengthened with nanocellulose that can be used to produce a strong but lightweight insulation material. Successful research was also carried out in the area of energy, where the aim was to find a way to make lithium-ion batteries safer and more efficient.

Promising outlook for nanomedicine

A great deal of potential is predicted for the field of nanomedicine. Nine of the 23 projects in NRP 64 focused on biomedical applications of nanoparticles. These include their use for drug delivery, for example in the fight against viruses, or as immune modulators in a vaccine against asthma. Another promising application concerns the use of nanomagnets for filtering out harmful metallic substances from the blood. One of the projects demonstrated that certain nanoparticles can penetrate the placenta barrier, which points to potential new therapy options. The potential of cartilage and bone substitute materials based on nanocellulose or nanofibres was also studied.

The examination of potential health risks was the focus of NRP 64. A number of projects examined what happens when nanoparticles are inhaled, while two focused on ingestion. One of these investigated whether the human gut is able to absorb iron more efficiently if it is administered in the form of iron nanoparticles in a food additive, while the other studied silicon nanoparticles as they occur in powdered condiments. It was ascertained that further studies will be required in order to determine the doses that can be used without risking an inflammatory reaction in the gut.

What happens to engineered nanomaterials in the environment?

The aim of the seven projects focusing on environmental impact was to gain a better understanding of the toxicity of nanomaterials and their degradability, stability and accumulation in the environment and in biological systems. Here, the research teams monitored how engineered nanoparticles disseminate along their lifecycle, and where they end up or how they can be discarded.

One of the projects established that 95 per cent of silver nanoparticles that are washed out of textiles are collected in sewage treatment plants, while the remaining particles end up in sewage sludge, which in Switzerland is incinerated. In another project a measurement device was developed to determine how aquatic microorganisms react when they come into contact with nanoparticles.

Applying results and making them available to industry

“The findings of the NRP 64 projects form the basis for a safe application of nanomaterials,” says Christoph Studer from the Federal Office of Public Health. “It has become apparent that regulatory instruments such as testing guidelines will have to be adapted at both national and international level.” Studer has been closely monitoring the research programme in his capacity as the Swiss government’s representative in NRP 64. In this context, the precautionary matrix developed by the government is an important instrument by means of which companies can systematically assess the risks associated with the use of nanomaterials in their production processes.

The importance of standardised characterisation and evaluation of engineered nanomaterials was highlighted by the close cooperation among researchers in the programme. “The research network that was built up in the framework of NRP 64 is functioning smoothly and needs to be further nurtured,” says Professor Bernd Nowack from Empa, who headed one of the 23 projects.

The results of NRP 64 show that new key technologies such as the use of nanomaterials need to be closely monitored through basic research due to the lack of data on its long-term effects. As Peter Gehr points out, “We now know a lot more about the risks of nanomaterials and how to keep them under control. However, we need to conduct additional research to learn what happens when humans and the environment are exposed to engineered nanoparticles over longer periods, or what happens a long time after a one-off exposure.”

You can find out more about the Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials; National Research Programme (NRP 64) here.

New model to track flow of nanomaterials through our air, earth, and water

Just how many tons of nanoparticles are making their way through the environment? Scientists at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) have devised a new model which could help answer that question. From a May 12, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Carbon nanotubes remain attached to materials for years while titanium dioxide and nanozinc are rapidly washed out of cosmetics and accumulate in the ground. Within the National Research Program “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64) a team led by Empa scientist Bernd Nowack has developed a new model to track the flow of the most important nanomaterials in the environment.

A May 12, 2016 Empa press release by Michael Hagmann, which also originated the news item, provides more detail such as an estimated tonnage for titanium dioxide nanoparticles produced annually in Europe,

How many man-made nanoparticles make their way into the air, earth or water? In order to assess these amounts, a group of researchers led by Bernd Nowack from Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, has developed a computer model as part of the National Research Program “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64). “Our estimates offer the best available data at present about the environmental accumulation of nanosilver, nanozinc, nano-tinanium dioxide and carbon nanotubes”, says Nowack.

In contrast to the static calculations hitherto in use, their new, dynamic model does not just take into account the significant growth in the production and use of nanomaterials, but also makes provision for the fact that different nanomaterials are used in different applications. For example, nanozinc and nano-titanium dioxide are found primarily in cosmetics. Roughly half of these nanoparticles find their way into our waste water within the space of a year, and from there they enter into sewage sludge. Carbon nanotubes, however, are integrated into composite materials and are bound in products such as which are immobilized and are thus found for example in tennis racquets and bicycle frames. It can take over ten years before they are released, when these products end up in waste incineration or are recycled.

39,000 metric tons of nanoparticles

The researchers involved in this study come from Empa, ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich. They use an estimated annual production of nano-titanium dioxide across Europe of 39,000 metric tons – considerably more than the total for all other nanomaterials. Their model calculates how much of this enters the atmosphere, surface waters, sediments and the earth, and accumulates there. In the EU, the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer (a practice forbidden in Switzerland) means that nano-titanium dioxide today reaches an average concentration of 61 micrograms per kilo in affected soils.

Knowing the degree of accumulation in the environment is only the first step in the risk assessment of nanomaterials, however. Now this data has to be compared with results of eco-toxicological tests and the statutory thresholds, says Nowack. A risk assessment has not been carried out with his new model so far. Earlier work with data from a static model showed, however, that the concentrations determined for all four nanomaterials investigated are not expected to have any impact on the environment.

But in the case of nanozinc at least, its concentration in the environment is approaching the critical level. This is why this particular nanomaterial has to be given priority in future eco-toxicological studies – even though nanozinc is produced in smaller quantities than nano-titanium dioxide. Furthermore, eco-toxicological tests have until now been carried out primarily with freshwater organisms. The researchers conclude that additional investigations using soil-dwelling organisms are a priority.

Here are links to and citations for papers featuring the work,

Dynamic Probabilistic Modeling of Environmental Emissions of Engineered Nanomaterials by Tian Yin Sun†, Nikolaus A. Bornhöft, Konrad Hungerbühler, and Bernd Nowack. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2016, 50 (9), pp 4701–4711 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b05828 Publication Date (Web): April 04, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

Probabilistic environmental risk assessment of five nanomaterials (nano-TiO2, nano-Ag, nano-ZnO, CNT, and fullerenes) by Claudia Coll, Dominic Notter, Fadri Gottschalk, Tianyin Sun, Claudia Som, & Bernd Nowack. Nanotoxicology Volume 10, Issue 4, 2016 pages 436-444 DOI: 10.3109/17435390.2015.1073812 Published online: 10 Nov 2015

The first paper, which is listed in Environmental Science & Technology, appears to be open access while the second paper is behind a paywall.

Fewer silver nanoparticles washed off coated textiles

This time I have two complementary tidbits about silver nanoparticles, their use in textiles, and washing. The first is a June 30, 2014 news item on Nanowerk, with the latest research from Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) on silver nanoparticles being sloughed off textiles when washing them,

The antibacterial properties of silver-coated textiles are popular in the fields of sport and medicine. A team at Empa has now investigated how different silver coatings behave in the washing machine, and they have discovered something important: textiles with nano-coatings release fewer nanoparticles into the washing water than those with normal coatings …

A June 30,  2014 Empa news release, which originated the news item, describes the findings in more detail,

If it contains ‘nano’, it doesn’t primarily leak ‘nano’: at least that’s true for silver-coated textiles, explains Bernd Nowack of the «Technology and Society» division at Empa. During each wash cycle a certain amount of the silver coating is washed out of the textiles and ends up in the waste water. [emphasis mine] Empa analysed this water; it turned out that nano-coated textiles release hardly any nano-particles. That’s quite the opposite to ordinary coatings, where a lot of different silver particles were found. Moreover, nano-coated silver textiles generally lose less silver during washing. This is because considerably less silver is incorporated into textile fabrics with nano-coating, and so it is released in smaller quantities for the antibacterial effect than is the case with ordinary coatings. A surprising result that has a transformative effect on future analyses and on the treatment of silver textiles. «All silver textiles behave in a similar manner – regardless of whether they are nano-coated or conventionally-coated,» says Nowack. This is why nano-textiles should not be subjected to stricter regulation than textiles with conventional silver-coatings, and this is relevant for current discussions concerning possible special regulations for nano-silver.

But what is the significance of silver particles in waste water? Exposed silver reacts with the (small quantities of) sulphur in the air to form silver sulphide, and the same process takes place in the waste water treatment plant. The silver sulphide, which is insoluble, settles at the bottom of the sedimentation tank and is subsequently incinerated with the sewage sludge. So hardly any of the silver from the waste water remains in the environment. Silver is harmless because it is relatively non-toxic for humans. Even if silver particles are released from the textile fabric as a result of strong sweating, they are not absorbed by healthy skin.

I’ve highlighted Nowack’s name as he seems to have changed his opinions since I first wrote about his work with silver nanoparticles in textiles and washing in a Sept. 8, 2010 posting,

“We found that the total released varied considerably from less than 1 to 45 percent of the total nanosilver in the fabric and that most came out during the first wash,” Bernd Nowack, head of the Environmental Risk Assessment and Management Group at the Empa-Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research, tells Nanowerk. “These results have important implications for the risk assessment of silver textiles and also for environmental fate studies of nanosilver, because they show that under certain conditions relevant to washing, primarily coarse silver-containing particles are released.”

How did the quantity of silver nanoparticles lost in water during washing change from “less than 1 to 45 percent of the total nanosilver in the fabric” in a 2010 study to “Empa analysed this water; it turned out that nano-coated textiles release hardly any nano-particles” in a 2014 study? It would be nice to find out if there was a change in the manufacturing process and whether or not this is global change or one undertaken in Switzerland alone.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the Empa paper,

Presence of Nanoparticles in Wash Water from Conventional Silver and Nano-silver Textiles by Denise M. Mitrano, Elisa Rimmele, Adrian Wichser, Rolf Erni, Murray Height, and Bernd Nowack. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn502228w Publication Date (Web): June 18, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

The second tidbit is from Iran and may help to answer my questions about the Empa research. According to a July 7, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Writing in The Journal of The Textile Institute (“Effect of silver nanoparticles morphologies on antimicrobial properties of cotton fabrics”), researchers from Islamic Azad University in Iran, describe the best arrangement for increasing the antibacterial properties of textile products by studying various structures of silver nanoparticles.

A July 7, 2014 news release from the Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council (INIC), which originated the news item, provides more details,

By employing the structure presented by the researchers, the amount of nanoparticles stabilization on the fabric and the durability of its antibacterial properties increase after washing and some problems are solved, including the change in the fabric color.

Using the results of this research creates diversity in the application of various structures of nanoparticles in the complementary process of cotton products. Moreover, the color of the fabric does not change as the amount of consumed materials decreases, because the excess use of silver was the cause of this problem. On the other hand, the stability and durability of nanoparticles increase against standard washing. All these facts result in the reduction in production cost and increase the satisfaction of the customers.

The researchers have claimed that in comparison with other structures, hierarchical structure has much better antibacterial activity (more than 91%) even after five sets of standard washing.

This work on morphology would seem to answer my question about the big difference in Nowack’s description of the quantity of silver nanoparticles lost due to washing. I am assuming, of course, that something has changed with regard to the structure and/or shape of the silver nanoparticles coating the textiles used in the Empa research.

Getting back to the work in Iran, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Effect of silver nanoparticles morphologies on antimicrobial properties of cotton fabrics by Mohammad Reza Nateghia & Hamed Hajimirzababa. The Journal of The Textile Institute Volume 105, Issue 8, 2014 pages 806-813 DOI: 10.1080/00405000.2013.855377 Published online: 21 Jan 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Few nanoparticles shed in nanopaint tests

Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, led a 3.5 year project, NanoHouse, investigating whether or not nanoparticles added to paint used on building facades might prove a health hazard. From a Jan. 13, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

 After 42 months the EU research project “NanoHouse” has ended, and the verdict is a cautious “all clear” – nanoparticles in the paint used on building façades do not represent a particular health risk. In the course of a “Technology Briefing” Empa researchers discussed these results with specialists from the construction industry.

Five Empa laboratories were involved in the EU NanoHouse project, along with four other European research institutes and four industrial partners. The aim of the project was to investigate the opportunities and risks presented by the nanomaterials used in the surface coatings applied to building façades. For the first time not only were freshly manufactured products studied to see if they set free nanoparticles, but also aged samples.

The January 13, 2014 Empa press release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the recent  NanoHouse technology briefing,

… Claudia Som briefly introduced the «NanoHouse» project, for which she acted as Empa coordinator. This project, which is financially supported through the EU’s 7th Research Framework Program, began in 2010 with the aim of investigating possible health effects caused by nanoparticles in building materials and houses. Various aspects of the research program included rubbing tests on model façades, attempts to wash out nanoparticles from surface coatings and an analysis of the biological effects on humans and the environment.

Tina Kuenniger, an Empa expert on the protection of wood surfaces against weathering, explained how nanoparticles work in paint. Some paints containing silicon dioxide are water repellent, easy to clean and scratch resistant. Nano titanium-dioxide has photocatalytic properties and can decompose air pollutants. Nano titanium-dioxide, along with nano zinc-oxide and nano-iron oxide, can be used to provide UV protection and, depending on the size of the particles used, also to protect against infrared radiation, i.e. heat. Similarly, nanoparticles can protect against attack by blue stain fungus and algae. Whilst many laboratory studies have confirmed the effectiveness of nanoparticles, in practice one question remains open: how much of the nanomaterial does one have to mix with the paint to ensure that it functions as expected? For this reason only a few products for external façades containing nano-materials are available on the market to date. The greatest opportunity nanoparticles offer lies in the combination of various functional properties, for example scratch resistance and easy (or self) cleaning characteristics.

The results of the tests surprised researchers from Empa and other consortium members (from the press release),

Bernd Nowack, head of Empa’s Environmental Risk Assessment and Management group, then presented the results of the investigations into how much nanomaterial is set free from façades. The release rate is generally very low – only 1 to 2% of the nanoparticles find their way into the environment. And in most cases they are released not as nanoparticles but bound to large paint particles, which significantly reduces their nano-scale effects. “We were very surprised at how few nanoparticles were actually set free”, Nowack admitted. The researchers had expected that the catalytically active nanoparticles would also attack the paint surrounding them, leading to more frequent release.

Jean–Pierre Kaiser showed by means of his toxicological studies that paints containing nanoparticles have the same effect on the behaviour of cells from the gastrointestinal tract and immune system as do similar paints which do not contain nanoparticles. The Empa researcher does not therefore expect that these nanoparticle-containing paints will represent a new, acute health risk. However, the investigations did at the same time show that nanoparticles are absorbed by the cells. Whether this accumulation of nanoparticles in the cells might lead to longer-term effects cannot yet be definitively determined.

Empa environmental scientist Roland Hischier made a plea for a reasonable balance in the assessment of the possible environmental damage. For a house with an assumed lifetime of eighty years, painting the façade with nanomaterial based paint would be more economic if this lasted for 30% longer than conventional coatings. Then, over the lifetime of the house, one would have to repaint the façade one time fewer, avoiding all the environmental effects caused by manufacturing the paint and disposing of the leftover material.

This theory remains somewhat controversial however –houses are frequently repainted for aesthetic reasons and not because a new coating is strictly necessary. In this case the advantage offered by the longer lifetime of nanoparticle-based coatings becomes completely irrelevant.

The researchers performed an industry survey revealing what professional paint companies believe to be true about nanoparticles in paint (from the press release),

… Ingrid Hincapie, a risk researcher on the Empa staff, reported on the results of her industrial survey. Many companies expected paint containing nanoparticles to have a longer lifetime than conventional paint. Some expected it to be easy to handle, for example because it dries faster. But exactly how one correctly disposes of leftover paint containing nanoparticles is something that only a handful of respondents knew.

Peter Seehafer of the Painter’s and Plasterer’s Association, gave the view from the sharp end, where quite simply the customer is king, and sometimes demands the latest in paint technology. On the other hand, about half of all painters are female, so protection from possibly unhealthy chemicals is therefore particularly important. “Our professional association needs more information, so that we can take up a clear position with respect to our customers and our employees”, demanded Seehafer.

Finally, André Hauser of the Swiss Federal Office of the Environment explained the current regulations covering the disposal of waste material containing nanoparticles. On its website www.bafu.admin.ch/abfall/01472/12850 the SFOE offers tips on how to dispose of such material properly. The current regulations relating to safe working practices with nanomaterials were explained by Kaspar Schmid of the Swiss government’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). The essential point here is that the manufacturer of the material must provide a Material Safety Data Sheet, as is the case with other chemicals.

In addition to the NanoHouse link given earlier, there is this Empa NanoHouse webpage which provides more information about the work including the survey of nanopaint producers from the project’s Survey webpage,

A survey of industrial producers of nanoparticles and paints showed that the most mentioned potential benefits of nano-enhanced façade coatings are: water and dirt repellent “easy to clean”, followed by UV-protection, antimicrobial resistance and protection from mechanical wear (i.e. scratch resistance). The ENP [engineered nanopartilces], which are the most used in Europe to improve the different functionalities of the façade coatings were: Ag [silver], functionalised silanes, TiO2  [titanium dioxide] and SiO2.[silicon dioxide]

The quality of a nano-paint compared to a traditional paint could be gradually (25% of responses) and noticeably (25%) improved, but 50% of the respondents reported no functionality improvement. The companies gave relevance on studies from the specialised press (90%), on participating in dialogue events (80%) (e.g. with authorities or taking part in projects such as NanoHouse), on getting expert opinions (70%) and on toxicology test (20%).

The overall impression from the survey was that improvement of the environmental performance seems not yet to be in the focus of innovation of ENP in façade coatings.

It’s a bit disappointing that the environmental performance of nanocoatings does not, according to this project’s findings, does not live up to the promises made by the various purveyors of nanotechnology-enabled paint.


Nanosilver history

According to Empa researchers, Bernd Nowack and Harald Krug, together with Murray Heights of the company HeiQ, silver at the nanoscale has a long history. From the Jan. 31,2011 news item on physorg.com,

Nanosilver is not a new discovery by nanotechnologists — it has been used in various products for over a hundred years, as is shown by a new Empa study. The antimicrobial effects of minute silver particles, which were then known as “colloidal silver,” were known from the earliest days of its use.

Their paper showing that nanosilver is not a 21st century discovery is being published in Environmental Science & Technology. From the news item,

Silver particles with diameters of seven to nine nm were mentioned as early as 1889. They were used in medications or as biocides to prevent the growth of bacteria on surfaces, for example in antibacterial water filters or in algaecides for swimming pools.

The nanoparticles were known as “colloidal silver” in those days, but what was meant was the same then as now – extremely small particles of silver. The only new aspect is the use today of the prefix “nano”. “However,” according to Bernd Nowack, “nano does not mean something new, and nor does it mean something that is harmful.” When “colloidal silver” became available on the market in large quantities in the 1920s it was the topic of numerous studies and subject to appropriate regulation by the authorities. [emphasis mine]

This suggests that there has been sufficient research on what we now call nano silver and its impact on the environment and on health. By contrast, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) had this to say in its recent call for information about analytical test methods for nanomaterials (from the Dec. 27, 2010 news item on Nanowerk),

Nano Silver

Nano silver is used increasingly in many consumer products. These include food contact materials (storage containers, cups, bowls and cutting boards), children’s toys and infant products, disinfectants, cosmetics, cleaning agents and machines, textiles, athletic apparel, dyes/paints, varnishes, polymers, and in medical products and applications. Given these diverse applications, nano silver is likely entering the environment. Several scientific studies describe potential adverse effects of nano silver on publicly owned treatment works (wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal systems).

Silver has been known historically as a potent antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral agent. In recent years, silver is used as a biocide in solution, suspension, and in nano-particulate form. The strong antimicrobial activity is a major reason for the development of products that contain nano silver. Nano silver may also have applications in agricultural, vector, and urban pest control. However, little or no information about detecting and measuring the effect of nano silver in the environment exists. Recent published papers point out difficulties in quantifying the existence of nano particles in environmental and biological contexts, which presents challenges in estimating and assessing the hazards and risks of nano silver. [emphasis mine]

Nowack, one of the Empa researchers, provides evidence for his position in a commentary that was previously published in the journal Science (from the news item),

A commentary by Bernd Nowack in the scientific journal Science discusses the implications of the newest studies on nanosilver in sewage treatment plants. More than 90% remains bound in the sewage sludge in the form of silver sulfide, a substance which is extremely insoluble and orders of magnitude less poisonous than free silver ions. [emphasis mine] It apparently does not matter what the original form of the silver in the wastewater was, whether as metallic nanoparticles, as silver ions in solution or as precipitated insoluble silver salts.

“As far as the environmental effects are concerned, it seems that nanosilver in consumer goods is no different than other forms of silver and represents only a minor problem for eco-systems,” says Nowack. What is still to be clarified, however, is in what form the unbound silver is present in the treated water released from sewage works, and what happens to the silver sulfide in natural waters. Is this stable and unreactive or is it transformed into other forms of silver? [emphasis mine]

The two approaches are not directly contradictory but I do find the totality confusing. Which challenges about the hazards and risks of nano silver are the folks in California referring to? It seems they’re not familiar with the older research cited by Nowack or perhaps they know something Nowack and his colleagues do not. Meanwhile, Nowack’s Science commentary is reassuring but whoever wrote the news item was careful to point out that there is still some important work to be done before declaring nano silver to be a ‘safe’ substance.

I posted about the DTSC call for information, Feb. 7, 2011.

Latest on silver nanoparticle toxicity

Dr. Bernd Nowack has issued another report on nanosilver. His work was first mentioned in my Sept. 8, 2010 posting which focused on how washing silver nanoparticle-treated textiles releases silver nanoparticles into the wash water. Nowack’s latest work is a report recommending a more stringent approach to studying the risk that silver nanoparticles might pose to the environment. From the Nov. 22, 2010  news item by Lin Edwards on physrorg.com,

Dr. Nowack said one of the risks arises because some of the wastewater and sludge from sewage treatment plants ends up on farms in fertilizers, and could therefore enter the food chain. Another risk is that nanosilver could have a detrimental effect on the nitrifying bacteria that are vital to the effluent treatment processes, and could prevent treatment plants from working properly.

Nowack’s report said in earlier studies some nanosilver had been shown to bond with sulfur in sewage sludge to produce non-toxic silver sulfide nanoparticles, but it is not known how efficient sulfur is at removing biocidal silver.

Sweating out silver nanoparticles

I’ve often wondered if the  silver nanoparticles, which coat the textiles used for clothing that doesn’t smell or need to be cleaned often, gets washed off by your sweat. As Michael Berger noted in his November 4, 2009 article on Nanowerk, researchers have found that silver nanoparticles do get washed off into the water,

Researchers in Switzerland have now examined what happens to these silver nanoparticle-treated textiles during washing. The scientists studied release of nanoparticles in laundry water from nine different textiles, including different brands of commercially available anti-odor socks. Studies like these will help address the question what the chances are of nanoparticles from nanofinished textiles being released into the environment.

“We found that the total released varied considerably from less than 1 to 45 percent of the total nanosilver in the fabric and that most came out during the first wash,” Bernd Nowack, head of the Environmental Risk Assessment and Management Group at the Empa-Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research, tells Nanowerk. “These results have important implications for the risk assessment of silver textiles and also for environmental fate studies of nanosilver, because they show that under certain conditions relevant to washing, primarily coarse silver-containing particles are released.”

As it turns out, Thai researchers have recently discovered that sweat will also wash off those silver nanoparticles (from the news item on Nanowerk),

A recent study by researchers at National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC) in Thailand has provided the data on detecting silver released from antibacterial fabric products using artificial sweat as a model to represent the human skin environment.

“The amount of silver released from fabrics into artificial sweat was dependent upon the initial amount of silver coating, the fabric quality, pH and artificial sweat formulations “said Dr Rawiwan Maniratanachote, head of Nano Safety and Risk Assessment Lab. “The study could be useful to evaluate potential human risk when exposed to silver nanoparticles from textile materials.”

I guess the next couple of questions to be answered are: do the silver nanoparticles being washing off by your sweat penetrate your skin and/or do the silver nanoparticles wash off your skin and into the water supply?

Nano ties to protect against spreading the H1N1 virus; more about China and science

Ties can carry viruses and germs just as easily as any other textile product so it makes sense that health and medical personnel would want to eliminate one more possible source of infection. The ‘nano’ tie (aka Safety Tie), which promises that you won’t inadvertently spread the H1N1 virus or other nasties,  is distributed by a company called SafeSmart.  From the company’s press release on Nanowerk,

Well before the swine flu outbreak, Florida-based SafeSmart developed a line of antimicrobial ties that has been widely accepted in healthcare, food service and other industries. SafetyTies, made of 100 percent nano-treated silk, have a built-in barrier that keeps dirt, liquids and bacteria out. In independent studies performed at BCS Laboratories of Gainesville, Florida, laboratory testing indicated that SafetyTies are 99.95 percent resistant to H1N1 influenza A.

I did try to find out about the “built-in barrier” but no details were offered in the press release or on the company’s website. Given that the tie is described as “antimicrobial,” I suspect they are binding silver nanoparticles to the silk and don’t want to make that information public.

The reluctance is understandable because of the concerns raised about silver nanoparticles, which are toxic, being washed off and ending up in the water supply. I recently noted a news item about Swiss researchers who published a study on washing silver nanoparticles off items of clothing and didn’t have time to include anything much more than links (the link to the study is no longer useful as the study is now behind a paywall). Michael Berger at Nanowerk has written in more depth about the research here. From Berger’s article,

“We found that the total released varied considerably from less than 1 to 45 percent of the total nanosilver in the fabric and that most came out during the first wash,” Bernd Nowack, head of the Environmental Risk Assessment and Management Group at the Empa-Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research, tells Nanowerk. “These results have important implications for the risk assessment of silver textiles and also for environmental fate studies of nanosilver, because they show that under certain conditions relevant to washing, primarily coarse silver-containing particles are released.”

I gather this research means that manufacturers can refine their products by using finer grained silver nanoparticles to minimize the number released through washing. All of which leads me to some other questions:

  • Should we insist that no silver nanoparticles be washed off?
  • Before considering that question, I’d like to find out if we had silver nanoparticles floating around in the water prior to the manufacture of textiles made by incorporating them into the fiber.
  • Did we ingest silver nanoparticles before we had antimicrobial fabrics?
  • Does the silver come off when you sweat and where does it go then? Could your sweat represent a bigger problem than the water supply?

There is at least one other line of query that can be taken as well. Is it a good idea to limit or eliminate our exposure to bacteria and germs? There are studies which suggest that our immune systems don’t work unless they’re stimulated by the very exposure we work so vigilantly to eliminate. I’m not suggesting that we expose people to dangerous diseases so they can build up their immune systems but this mania to eliminate all germs and bacteria from our personal environments seems ill-advised to me.

I found a news item about another report on China and its research output. From the news item on Nanowerk,

“If China’s research growth remains this rapid and substantial, European and North American institutions will want to be part of it,” said Jonathan Adams, director of research evaluation at Thomson Reuters. “China no longer depends on links to traditional G8 partners to help its knowledge development. When Europe and the USA visit China they can only do so as equal partners.”

I have requested a copy of the Thomson Reuters study, Global Research Report: China, mentioned. You can request your own copy from here.