“About three years ago, consumer products incorporating silver as an antimicrobial ingredient -- some made using nanotechnology to bond materials at a molecular level -- took off in Asia. Now some observers believe they are poised to become big in the U.S.
'Silver nanoparticles may very well become the next 'it' product, much like antibacterial soaps that took the consumer sector by storm a decade ago,' says Marlene Bourne, president of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Bourne Research, which specializes in emerging technologies.”
The strategy of using nanoparticles to fight microbes, of course, builds on the same qualities of nanoparticles that potentially make them more toxic to humans as well.
“[T]he proliferation of silver-containing products is raising some concerns among state and federal environmental regulators because silver is highly toxic to aquatic life. (It isn't toxic to humans except in large quantities that aren't at issue when it comes to these consumer products.)
"The whole contaminant issue is starting to explode in our face and we need to look and study it further," says a spokeswoman for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, a nonprofit association of wastewater and drinking water plants in Washington.
In a February letter, the organization asked the Environmental Protection Agency to review consumer products containing silver ions and to consider registering them as pesticides. The group's letter to the agency cited the silver ions that will be discharged into sewer systems when clothing is washed in Samsung's new machine.
The EPA's office of pesticide programs says it is studying the matter. A Samsung manager in the U.S. referred questions to the electronics giant's headquarters in Seoul. Officials there couldn't be reached.
Another broad question is whether resistant strains of bacteria could emerge if the market were flooded with silver nanoparticles.
Silver, in the form of a metal or as dissolved ions, fights microorganisms by interfering with processes such as how they breathe and reproduce. Tests show that silver ions kill microorganisms ranging from harmful strains of e. coli that cause food-borne diseases to the staphylococcus bacteria responsible for serious infections.
The metal becomes more active against microbes when it's made into small particles because they can cover more surface area when they come into direct contact with bacteria, says Andrew Maynard, a physicist and chief scientific adviser to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.”
Consumers don’t seem to care too much yet. Sharper Image sells the food containers, for example, through their Amazon.com store. Here’s the FreshLonger product description from Amazon.com:
"End the expense and frustration of tossing out costly food that has spoiled or grown "furry" much too quickly. With FresherLonger Miracle Food Storage containers, infused with naturally antibacterial silver nanoparticles, it's easy to keep foods fresher three or even four times longer: fruits, vegetables, herbs, breads, cheeses, soups, sauces and meats! Try FresherLonger and prove to yourself what we proved to ourselves in our own homes when we discovered these Miracle Food Storage containers. This 12-piece FresherLonger set will quickly pay for itself just in thrown-away raspberries and you'll enjoy food that maintains its color, flavor and nutritional values much longer.Naturally antibacterial.FresherLonger containers are infused with silver nanoparticles because silver (yes, the metal found in silverware) is safe and naturally anti-germ, anti-mold and anti-fungus. In tests comparing FresherLonger to conventional containers, the 24-hour growth of bacteria inside FresherLonger containers was reduced by over 98 percent because of the silver nanoparticles! Airtight storage.FresherLonger containers feature an airtight silicone-gasket locking system and containers made of air- and odor-impermeable polypropylene. They also are very easy to open and close. The containers are spillproof, shatterproof and safe for the dishwasher, microwave, fridge and freezer. Stop wasting food! Set includes 12 pieces. 90-day warranty."
Says one Amazon.com reviewer: "That silver nano stuff really works!"