New Biocide Research Pits Stinky Feet Against Fish

Smelly feet have an amazing grip on Western society. They bring out the oversensitive teenager in us, and those who ignore their own smelly appendages break a powerful taboo. Which leads to a product design trend that is most definitely Un-Treehugger.

Unbelievably, (in retrospect), manufacturers once toyed with the idea of reducing foot odor by treating stockings with the biocide known as TBTO, the now banned marine antifoulant. TBTO is now widely recognized to have powerful endocrine distrupting effects at low concentrations: making female marine whelks grow penises, a phenomenon known as imposex.

From standpoint of dishing out market magic to body odor-obsessed Westerners, it's no surprise that colloidal ("ionic") silver, and now even "nano-silver" treated stockings, are being offered to the general consumer, as well as to more narrow medical market, where there is actual clinical value.
Our concern is that, on the consumer side, retailers may offer all manner of bedding, undergarments, and sportswear treated with silver biocide, with the upshot of seriously boosting the aquatic toxicity of wash water effluent. There are plenty of sources.

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Let's see what a recent experiment showed about the potential for toxic forms of silver to leach from such consumer products.
In an experiment, Benn and Westerhoff soaked six pairs of name brand anti-odour socks impregnated with nanosilver 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," they say.

Benn warns that nanosilver escaping waste water treatment systems into nearby lakes, rivers and streams may damage aquatic ecosystems. The researcher says that the dissolved form of iconic silver not only attacks odour-causing bacteria, but it can also hijack chemical processes essential for life in other microbes and aquatic animals.

"If you start releasing ionic silver, it is detrimental to all aquatic biota. Once the silver ions get into the gills of fish, it's a pretty efficient killer," says Benn.


As we mentioned above, a portion of the variously silver-treated fabric/clothing market has demonstrated therapeutic and disease prevention value: a small-scale niche which we find not very troubling from an aquatic toxicology standpoint. See:: Juzo Silver Soft compression stockings here, for an example. And, as indicated by the researchers quoted, the extent of silver material leaching and the aquatic hazard posed by those leached materials varies greatly depending on the exact material used and on how those materials are bound to fabrics.

In the absence of clear knowledge of what differentiates the treated products from an aquatic toxicology standpont, any and all "silver" treated soxs are emblematic of our concern. See Nanosilver Antibacterial & Deodorant Socks for an example.

Purest Colloids, Inc
. does a good job of explaining the differences between the various forms of silver that might be used to treat, or be incorporated in, stockings or whatever.

Some products advertised as being ionic silver describe their properties in terms of silver particles attempting to confuse the reader into believing in the existence of ionic silver particles. There is no such thing. There are metallic silver particles (nanoparticles) and silver ions, no ionic silver particles. This distinction is very important.
Chemical formulations claiming to have the desired biocidal effect, when used to treat clothing or bedding items sold in the USA, must be registered with USEPA as a pesticide. Always on the lookout for meeting the advanced needs of US customers, those crafty Chinese sox makers surely would not have forgotten such a requirement, would they? Nahh, of course not.

Imagine an hypothetical scenario where silver, after shooting up in price quite drastically, becomes too expensive for certain manufacturers to continue to use as a pesticide for treating clothing and bedding. Would there not be a temptation to substitute some other, far nastier, pesticide? Who would notice? Think FDA and EPA are sampling sox and bedding at the port of entry? Think again.

There is a role for a responsible government in managing this issue. For example, government could limit sales of pesticide treated clothing and bedding, based upon a simple performance-based test, to those items demonstrated not to leach pesticides during washing and which are otherwise safe for human skin contact, based on specific human health hazards posed, if any.

Because the US government has not demonstrated responsible behavior in managing the risk to aquatic organisms, and because it's still pretty confusing, we are left as consumers to act on our own. So lets make it simple.

If the doctor tells you you need silver stockings or sheets, go for it.

For non medical goods, do not buy silver treated clothing or bedding of any kind. Avoid also silver doping washing machines, or silver containing laundry products.

The poor salmon and trout are having a hard enough time without additional pesticide exposures. And, taxpayers should not have to pay more to meet wastewater treatment discharge standards at municipal sewerage plants just because a few people can't stand the smell of their own feet.

See also:: Beware The Silver Lining: A Risk Management Review Of Commercial Nanotechnology

Via::TopNews.Inc, "Your odourless socks may damage environment" Image credit::New Mexico Environment Department, "Aquatic Species Kills in New Mexico" Readers Note: the graphic was chosen to illustrate the potential for fish kills, generically. We have no idea what caused the pictured fish to die.

Tags: China