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NACWA Applauds Wilson Center Report on Impacts of Silver Nanotechnologies


For Immediate Release:  Sept. 9, 2008

Contact:  Susan Bruninga
Director, Legislative and Public Affairs, NACWA, (202) 833-3280

NACWA Applauds Wilson Center Report on Impacts of Silver Nanotechnologies

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) applauds the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for its report, Silver Nanotechnologies and the Environment: Old Problems or New Challenges?, which provides a comprehensive and unparalleled discussion of the pathways, bioavailability, and potential impacts of both silver and the new and varied applications of nano-sized particles of silver (nano-silver).  NACWA has been helping its members to carefully monitor the explosive growth of nanotechnology products for any potential impacts on biological treatment systems, the resulting biosolids, and the environment.  As nanotechnology products increasingly become part of our lifestyle, more data on these impacts become essential.  The new report, by the Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, will add significantly to the growing body of knowledge about the potential impacts of nanotech products on human health and the environment.

NACWA’s members have spent decades developing and implementing sophisticated pretreatment programs — which set stringent requirements for industrial and commercial wastewater before it reaches the treatment plant — to prevent the discharge of toxic pollutants to the sewer system.  Certain forms of silver can be toxic to aquatic life and can prevent clean water agencies from recycling their biosolids.  For this reason, pretreatment programs have been designed to specifically ensure that discharges of silver particles are minimized or eliminated.   However, recently, consumer products, including silver treated socks, washing machines that discharge silver ions, and silver-coated food containers, just to name a few,  have begun to proliferate in the marketplace, jeopardizing the efforts of clean water agencies to keep silver out of the aquatic environment.   Moreover, little is known about the impacts of nano-silver on the environment.  Nano-silver applications could add to the silver loads that we already know are toxic; they could have completely different impacts due to the unique nature of their nano size; or they could be relatively harmless.  The Wilson Center report provides an in-depth look at some of the underlying chemical and environmental processes that will help us better understand these potential impacts.

The pretreatment programs run by clean water agencies have had tremendous success at controlling the discharge of toxic pollutants from industrial and commercial dischargers, but utilities have little or no authority to control discharges of pollutants from residences.  In the past this has not presented a major challenge, but the growing number of consumer products —including antibacterial soaps, pesticide treated clothing, and nano silver coated products — that incorporate toxic pollutants are raising concerns at clean water agencies about potential impacts on the aquatic environment.  To raise awareness about these issues, NACWA last year initiated the National Dialogue on Safe and Sustainable Consumer Products.  The goal of the dialogue was to bring together manufacturers, retailers, consumers, and other stakeholder groups to discuss and take action on the growing number of consumer products being developed using new ingredients or additives that may have unintended consequences for the environment or human health.  The Dialogue seeks to find practical ways to prevent these unintended consequences by increasing awareness of the issue, encouraging product stewardship, and facilitating research on the potential life-cycle impacts of product additives.


NACWA represents the interests of more than 300 public agencies and organizations that have made the pursuit of scientifically based, technically sound and cost effective laws and regulations their objective. NACWA members serve the majority of the sewered population in the United States and collectively treat and reclaim more than 18 billion gallons of wastewater daily.

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