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article imageIs Nano Silver Dangerous?

By Paul Wallis     Jun 11, 2009 in Health
A storm has arrived over the use of nano silver in consumer products. Silver, according to environmentalists, is potentially toxic, and the use of it in consumer products like shirts, appliances, and the level of daily exposure, is now an issue.
Silver also used to be used as an anti bacterial agent, and that’s one of the selling points of its new uses, too.
So the war has started on several fronts. One of the arguments is that this tide of silver is also helping bacteria develop immunity to silver. Ironically, nobody’s got around to mentioning the other side of this equation. Nano silver also exists in therapeutic forms, notably colloidal silver, which is a diluted drink of nano silver used to destroy infections, and until recently, the debate was about whether it was safe, and whether it worked or not.
The original story was that colloidal silver, which is a micron sized solution of silver, was either sworn to have no use at all, or that it was the “miracle” of alternative therapy. It either raised the dead, or was responsible for whole medical dictionaries of illness.
The current controversy isn’t so much a double standard as a lousy standard of debate.
A few facts about silver.
· It’s a heavy metal. Any sort of exposure therefore has to be under strict limits. All heavy metals are potentially toxic, except gold, and that’s only because it doesn’t metabolize or react. Silver, however, does.
· Silver oxides are poisonous, period, to anything or anyone.
· It does kill bacteria, but its use as an alternative medicine comes with a lot of warnings.
· Its effect as a passive antibacterial in consumer products is partly hype. It can do the job, to a point, but it doesn’t mean that you can coat yourself in silver and be bacteria-free, either. Use of silver so far apparently reduces bacterial populations, but doesn’t qualify as sterilization, or anything like it.
Environmentalists and proponents of silver have one good working point here, in that the introduction of something like silver into the human environment can have health effects. The likelihood of a lot of an unnatural material in the environment causing some unnatural situations is very high.
There’s a bit more to worry about than the comparative health and well being of bacteria. Nano particles can penetrate tissues. Silver, in reaction with acids, becomes chemically active, as any high school student, (who’d be overqualified for this standard of debate) would know. Silver’s anti bacterial properties, real or imagined, don’t translate into Safe For Baby, by any stretch of the imagination.
The basic threat, as environmentalists express it, is that bacteria will become resistant to silver in the same sense as they become resistant to antibiotics. This idea is borne out by fundamental adaption studies of populations of bacteria, where the natural response to a hazard is that the bacterial populations demark into resistant and non resistant forms, and speciation, the creation of sub species, occurs. There are bacteria that can eat paint, and those that get killed by it.
None of which, incidentally, proves a hazard. It simply proves that if you use a disinfectant, you "kill 99% of germs", but it's the 1% you don't kill, which are a part of any population of any species, that you need to worry about. All large populations have naturally resistant components, and this is where they become visible. There are people who are resistant to HIV, for example. Recent studies have shown some strains of flu, which are resistant to commercial therapies, have completely replaced the non resistant populations. This is evolution, the How To Survive Manual, Page 1, in practice.
The argument, however, despite its apparent disingenuous nature, isn’t getting too far for either side. The theory is that nano particles are a marketing gimmick, which may well be right, but the fact is that they’re also an expensive, largely unnecessary addition to your clothes. People have managed to survive for millions of years without underwear impregnated with nano silver, and there’s even some reason to believe they may continue to do so.
The overall impression is that Snivelization has struck again, creating an unresolved issue where some sanity would probably be more useful, and less verbose.
More about Nano silver, Bacterial resistance, Nanotechnology debate