Nanotechnology

An emerging area of science

Nanotechnology has received a significant amount of attention in the last two decades, with awareness around the science growing in government, industry and public groups. Although there are a range of possible advantages for using nanotechnology, the lack of research into this newly evolving science leaves much room for debate in regards to safety concerns.

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the precise manipulation of matter on atomic, molecular and supramolecular scales, to create materials less than 100 nm with novel and varied properties. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) state the following: Chemical substances that have structures with dimensions at the nanoscale — between 1-100 nanometres (nm) in any one dimension– are commonly referred to as nanoscale materials or nanoscale substances’.[1]

To put their size into perspective, a sheet of paper is approximately 100,000nm thick, and a human hair 80,000nm wide. Nanoparticles can take many different shapes, such as spheres, rods, cubes and cones.

Concerns about nanotechnology and nanosilver

While the pace of research is growing and the market for nanomaterials expanding, our understanding of their toxicological consequences remains limited. As the most widely used substance in the nanotechnology industry, nanosilver (AgNPs) poses particular safety concerns. Tangible data on bio-distribution, organ accumulation, degradation, toxicity and possible adverse effects remain scarce, in spite of nanosilver having the highest degree of commercialisation.

There is also a lack of knowledge regarding the stability and bio persistency of nanosilver. From products such as washing machines and water filters, the presence of nanosilver can easily leach or dissolve into the aqueous environment. Reports have shown that almost all products containing silver nanoparticles release into the environment, allowing for higher exposure levels to sensitive aquatic and terrestrial populations. Longevity data regarding the antimicrobial efficacy of nanosilver over time is also greatly lacking, as many treated items are short term or single use, such as bandages and catheters.

Concerns about nanotechnology and nanosilver

While the pace of research is growing and the market for nanomaterials expanding, our understanding of their toxicological consequences remains limited. As the most widely used substance in the nanotechnology industry, nanosilver (AgNPs) poses particular safety concerns. Tangible data on bio-distribution, organ accumulation, degradation, toxicity and possible adverse effects remain scarce, in spite of nanosilver having the highest degree of commercialisation.

There is also a lack of knowledge regarding the stability and bio persistency of nanosilver. From products such as washing machines and water filters, the presence of nanosilver can easily leach or dissolve into the aqueous environment. Reports have shown that almost all products containing silver nanoparticles release into the environment, allowing for higher exposure levels to sensitive aquatic and terrestrial populations. Longevity data regarding the antimicrobial efficacy of nanosilver over time is also greatly lacking, as many treated items are short term or single use, such as bandages and catheters.

Regulations on nanosilver

Due to it being a relatively new form of technology, the current regulatory controls for nanosilver are poor. A recent study on registered biocides in the US showed that of all the biocidal silver products, 53% likely or surely contain nanosilver, but only 7% are advertised as containing nanoparticles[2]. Many nanosilver products are therefore being sold on the market without regulatory consent or consumer knowledge.

In the US, all nanomaterials must be registered under the Toxic Substance Control Act according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the EU, there are currently no silver nanoparticles that are registered under the Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR). Countries where AgNPs are registered are likely to face major regulatory changes once new durability and toxicity data is uncovered, greatly affecting the positioning nanosilver treated articles on the market. Calls on the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to revise the definition of what classifies as a nanoparticle have resulted in a change in their definition, but some say this is still not enough.

How BioCote® technology differs

Our active substance is supported in a glass matrix that unequivocally falls outside of the size range of a nanoparticle. We use active ingredients that do not leach out of a product once integrated and are classed as non-migratory.  This means that the active substance will remain contained within the product, limiting its exposure to humans and the environment.

We only supply antimicrobial additives that have the necessary global regulatory approvals. Our technology is registered with the BPR, EPA, FDA and FIFRA and has been proven safe for direct food and water contact. The technology that we use is well understood globally, making BioCote® treated articles suitable for world-wide distribution and safe from future regulatory changes. Due to the substantial evidence and reports that prove our additives to be non-toxic, they also do not have to be registered under Toxic Substance Control Act within the USA.

We say ‘no’ to nano

While nanoscience shows potential in the antimicrobial industry, BioCote® have chosen not to use nanosilver, nor any other nanomaterials, due to the current lack of research and understanding behind the technology.

Until more research becomes available into the specific effects of nanosilver, and further information on the ‘causality chain’ (release from products, to emissions, to distribution in the environment, to effects on biodata)[3] is created, we cannot ignore the potential risks that it may pose to both human health and the environment. As a business, BioCote® greatly values consumer trust and honesty, and would not allow materials to be put onto the market until their safety can be effectively assessed and monitored by regulatory agencies.


[1] EPA Fact Sheet: Nanoscale Materials https://www.epa.gov/reviewing-new-chemicals-under-toxic-substances-control-act-tsca/fact-sheet-nanoscale-materials#:~:text=Chemical%20substances%20that%20have%20structures,approximately%2080%2C000%2D100%2C000%20nanometers%20wide.

[2] Bernd Nowack, Harald F. Krug, Murray Height (2011) 120 Years of Nanosilver History: Implications for Policy Makers in ‘Environmental Science and Technology’, p. 1179

[3] W.P Susan et al Nano-silver – a review of available data and knowledge gaps in human and environmental risk assessment, p. 113

How Antimicrobial Technology Works

Antimicrobial additives are extremely diverse and control microbes via many different means. When used in the manufacture of products they create surfaces and materials inhospitable to microbes such as bacteria and mould. Find out more about how BioCote® additives work.

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