Are Our Clothes Harming the Environment?

March 14, 2013

by Alex Francis

Environmental Efforts
Photo by Benjamin Colman

For some time now, clothing manufacturers have been including silver nanoparticles in their products as a way to kill bacteria and mitigate the odor associated with sweat. Here’s how it works: While sweat is mostly water, it also contains trace amounts of other compounds, and it is those other compounds that are metabolized by the bacteria on our skin to produce an odor. Because silver nanoparticles are antimicrobial, they are able to kill the bacteria before they can interact with your sweat, thereby helping to eliminate odor.
 
This has led to silver nanoparticles being used in the making of a number of products that range from athletic clothing to pacifiers. And while that’s all well and good as far as minimizing unpleasant smells and sterilizing products goes, researchers have begun to discover that it could be harmful to the environment.
 
The problem lies in that trace amounts of silver nanoparticles are released into the waste water stream whenever the clothing that has been treated with them is washed. And over time, because sludge from waste water treatment plants is used as fertilizer, the silver can accumulate in the soil and interfere with its ecosystems.
 
While previous studies on the effects of this have been conducted in laboratories, a group of researchers from Duke University recently tested the consequences of low concentrations of silver nanoparticles in real-world conditions.
 
Negative Consequences
 
The researchers created a number of different mesocosms meant to represent various environments, treating some with sludge that contained low doses of silver nanoparticles and leaving others untreated. After 50 days, they found that the biomass of one of the plants studied had dropped 32%, and the activity of microbes involved with dealing with external stress and regulating processes had been reduced 52% and 27%, respectively. The overall biomass of all microbes was 35% lower than the initial level.
 
These preliminary findings indicate that a serious look needs to be taken at how the ubiquitous use of silver nanoparticles is going to affect our environment in the long-term.
 
Protect the Environment with CJ Environmental
 
While silver nanoparticles are too small to be filtered out of waste water, you can keep other precious metals from going to waste by sending them to CJ Environmental to be refined. Specializing in refining electronic and dental scrap in addition to precious metals, CJ Environmental is dedicated to keeping precious resources of all kinds out of landfills for the good of the earth.

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