News releases

New 'super bug' threat: Nano-silver

Posted Sep. 14, 2011 / Posted by: Nick Berning

For Immediate Release

Contact: Emilie Openchowski, 202-222-0723, eopenchowski@foe.org;
Nick Berning, 202-222-0748, nberning@foe.org

New ‘super bug’ threat: Experts warn nano-silver in consumer products may be leading to resistant bacteria

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Public health and environmental experts are warning that the increasing use of nano-silver as an antimicrobial agent in consumer products may be hastening the spread of resistant microorganisms, according to a report released today by Friends of the Earth.

The report, “Nano-silver: Policy failure puts public health at risk,” can be found at: http://www.foe.org/news/blog/2011-09-nano-silver-and-bacterial-resistance

"Nano-silver is a potent antimicrobial agent, and corporations are increasingly putting it into consumer products such as clothes, toothpastes and toys. Unfortunately, such widespread use may be leading to the spread of resistant bacteria, which threatens public health,” said Ian Illuminato, one of the report’s authors and the health and environment campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S. “Just as we wouldn’t put antibiotics into consumer products, we should refrain from putting antimicrobial nano-silver into them.”

Experts interviewed in the report warn that using nano-silver in so many consumer products could breed bacterial resistance, ruining its use in hospitals — where it is needed most — and speeding the development of super bugs. Bacterial resistance is already a killer in hospitals around the world. Close to 100,000 Americans die each year because of untreatable infections — more than two times the annual road toll.

Silver has long been used for its antimicrobial properties, and in recent years studies have indicated that nanoscale (extremely small) silver particles are particularly potent antimicrobial agents. According to the experts interviewed in the report, nano-silver use may be merited in some circumstances, such as in medical dressings used in hospitals, but its widespread use in consumer products could cause more harm than good, leading to the spread of resistant bacteria.

While the commercial use of nano-silver is a relatively new phenomenon, there are already more than 300 commercially available products containing nano-silver, including water filters, pet shampoos, bath towels, shoes, socks, cosmetics and food containers. These products containing nano-silver are not labeled as such.

The report notes that early evidence of nano-silver resistance in bacteria has already emerged, and that resistance is not the only threat posed by nano-silver, which may also pose health risks because of its toxicity.

In writing the report, Illuminato of Friends of the Earth U.S. and Dr. Gregory Crocetti of Friends of the Earth Australia interviewed seven academics as well as public health and environmental experts.

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Friends of the Earth fights to defend the environment and create a more healthy and just world. Our campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them. 

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