Samsung vs. the regulators

Samsung’s use of silver nanoparticles in a new washing machine faces opposition from water regulators and environmentalists.

Korean firm Samsung’s introduction of a washing machine that uses silver nanoparticles as an antibacterial agent has led in two European countries to consumer opposition and complaints from official regulators. The product also looks likely to run into trouble with the new regulatory system being implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US.

Samsung’s Silvercare Technology injects silver ions into the wash cycle to sanitise fabrics without the need for hot water or bleach. Samsung claims that the process removes 99.9% of odour-causing bacteria from laundry, and provides 92% energy savings over hot water washing.

Initial opposition was led by the German branch of Friends of the Earth, Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND). When the Silvercare machine was introduced to the German market, BUND expressed a concern that silver could enter sewage treatment plants and interfere with the biological purification of waste water.

Even bigger noises were made in Sweden, and the machine was temporarily withdrawn by Samsung from the local market.

Anders Finnson, of the Stockholm Water Company and Europe-wide water agency Eureau, says that even the lowest emission figure supplied by the company – there have been several, and they range from 0.05–0.19 grammes annually per household – would drive a coach and horses through national emissions and recycling targets. “We need a reduction in silver emissions of 80% in order to comply with targets,” explains Finnson. “In practice that means 2 mg/kg of silver measured in dry sludge, and this can only be achieved with no industrial use of silver.”

In the US, the EPA classes silver as a pesticide, and some health professionals now frown upon the widespread use of silver in medicine. Research shows some bacteria are developing thicker membranes as a result of their exposure to the metal, and are thus becoming more resistant to antibiotics. Silver ions are also considered to be on a par with those of mercury in their environmental toxicity.

Samsung was invited to contribute to this article, but no response from the company was forthcoming.

Resources:

Samsung press release on Silvercare Technology
BUND press release on Silvercare Technology (in German)
“Argentum Argumentum” – article in the Economist magazine

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.