Setac Europe 2010



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Anyone else recognise this saying? My parents used it a lot while I was growing up when I’d taken a course of action that, while not ideal, wasn’t going to cause any lasting damage.

In the case of silver nanoparticles in textiles, however, it seems it probably will come out in the wash – disappear down our domestic waste pipes and into our environment, with no guarantee that lasting damage won’t be done.

It has been predicted that 12-49 per cent of the silver nanoparticles produced globally end up in textiles, as antimicrobials in socks for example. And in a first step towards figuring out whether this practice poses an environmental risk, Bernd Nowack and his team at EMPA in Switzerland have assessed whether or not these particles remain embedded in the textiles when they are washed in a washing machine.

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Their key finding was that different textiles behave very differently, some release 20 per cent of their silver particles in the first wash after purchase where as others release hardly anything. The conclusion the team has drawn from this is that how the manufacturers have embedded the particles is very important. ‘Companies have possibilities to design safe nanotextiles that release only small amounts of silver,’ said Nowack.

Other, more predictable, findings include that less particles are released the second time the item of clothing is washed and that the mechanical stress of the washing machine aids their release.

As well as trying to get textile companies to change their ways, the team also plan to consider both the environmental fate and toxicology of the released particles.

Until they do, maybe I should be thinking about more than my nose before buying these sweet-smelling socks next time.

To learn more: the work was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in September last year, and was well covered by the press at the time (see here, here and here).

Nina Notman

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Slightly chirpier news came in the form of this evening’s plenary lecture – given by Joseph Suflita from the University of Oklahoma in US. Apparently as bad as the resulting spill is following last month’s explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico (and don’t get me wrong – it is bad), the environment has experienced and survived worse. Globally we managed to ‘spill’ more than 10 million tonnes of oil into the ocean from 1989 to 2007. So with approximations for Deepwater Horizon sitting around 10,000

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tonnes at the moment, it is literally just a drop in the ocean.

So the big question is why does it all turn out ok in the end? The answer, according to Suflita, is anaerobic microbes that munch away on hydrocarbons deep underwater. While they are used to lower molecular weight hydrocarbons, Suflita’s team have shown the microbes can break down the high molecular weight hydrocarbons that make up oil. So fingers crossed the microbes in the Gulf of Mexico are feeling hungry this year.

Nina Notman

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This week I’m in Seville, Spain, attending the 2010 Setac Europe meeting. Setac (for the uninitiated) is the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry – a global not-for-profit organisation with approximately 5000 members.

I’ve attended a Setac North American annual meeting in the past, so knew pretty much what to expect in terms of scope and quality of the talks – but what I’d forgotten is quite how scary everything is…I’ll explain! Every speaker is discussing yet another thing humans are doing to the Earth that is going to harm our environment (and ultimately us) in the long run. Gulp! And they are not hyping it up, nor do they have ‘glass half empty’ personality types, they have solid scientific data and robust models to back up their arguments. (more…)

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