In spite of the title, this is actually going to be a serious post. Remember my recent one on nanotechnology? Well, this is sort of a follow-up. I just finished reading a rather alarming April 7 Science Daily article (see: http://tinyurl.com/4s5zoh) on “toxic socks.” These are special socks permeated with nanoparticle silver, which has antibacterial and odour-fighting properties.
Problem is, if you buy these socks (or anything else containing nanosilver), you won’t be able to wash them. Ever! If you forget and throw them into the washing machine, tiny silver particles will probably be released into the waterwaste system and end up flowing into natural watercourses where they could have unwanted and deleterious effects on the organisms living in the water, and possibly, eventually, on us, too.
Two Arizona State University researchers brought the issue of nanosilver to our attention after conducting a recent experiment. They bought six pairs of no-smell socks, one from the UK (!), soaked them in a jar of room temperature distilled water, shook the contents for an hour and tested the water for two types of silver — the harmful "ionic" form and the less-studied nanoparticle variety. "From what we saw, different socks released silver at different rates, suggesting that there may be a manufacturing process that will keep the silver in the socks better," said Benn. "Some of the sock materials released all of the silver in the first few washings, others gradually released it. Some didn’t release any silver."
So if you wash these socks, possibly even large amounts of nanosilver will eventually end up in lakes and rivers. Ionic silver, the dissolved form of the element, does not just attack odor-causing bacteria. It can also hijack chemical processes essential for life in other microbes and aquatic animals. It can, for instance, kill fish by seeping into their gills, thereby disrupting their blood and tissue chemistries. And what happens to our gills and blood/tissue chemistries if we eat teenysilver-ridden fish?
Oh boy, let me tell ya, I wouldn’t go near these socks, let alone touch them with my bare hands or put them on my feet! I will also never ever (never!) buy infection-fighting bandaids (oh yes, nanosilver is in those, too!). And, if you happen to be in the market for a new washing machine, avoid the ones that advertise “silvercare.”
After reading this piece, my advice is: let your socks smell a bit. It seems like a tiny price to pay compared to the potentially very negative environmental impact of the no-smell silver socks. Talk about nanoCRUD!