Silver - Uptake

In addition to the handling of silver (powder) at the workplace, silver nanoparticles are also used in sprays. Therefore the lung plays a major role as potential uptake pathway of silver nanoparticles via inhalation, as these ultrafine particles may reach the deeper regions of the lung and enter into the bloodstream.

Silver (nano)particles are used due to their antimicrobial effects (mainly against bacteria and fungi, less against viruses) in different consumer goods and medical products, e.g. in textiles, for wound treatment (including skin burns) or for skin diseases such as neurodermatitis. Here the main task of silver is to protect the skin surface against excessive bacterial colonisation by releasing silver ions. At the same time this also means that in case of wound treatment the silver ions or particles can penetrate into deeper tissue areas of the skin.

Currently the use of silver nanoparticles is not permitted in food. But silver in general is approved as a food colouring agent (known as E174) to colour surfaces of sugar-, confectionary and bakery products and has to be labelled appropriately. Due to their antimicrobial activity silver nanoparticles are also used in food contact materials (e.g. packaging foils or plastic storage container) making a transition of silver into the food it possible. But such products are currently not registered in Germany and the EU.

Silver is known to be toxic for bacteria and aquatic organisms this being the reason why it is one of the most studied nanomaterials. Although most studies compare the effects of silver ions (originating form silver salts) with those of silver nanoparticles, it is difficult to distinguish between the effects of the particles and the dissolved ions. The question has not yet fully been answered whether nanoparticles or silver ions are more toxic to environment organisms.


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