Emerging contaminant or an old toxin in disguise? Silver nanoparticle impacts on ecosystems

Benjamin P. Colman, Benjamin Espinasse, Curtis J. Richardson, Cole W. Matson, Gregory V. Lowry, Dana E. Hunt, Mark R. Wiesner, Emily S. Bernhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


The use of antimicrobial silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) in consumer-products is rising. Much of these AgNPs are expected to enter the wastewater stream, with up to 10% of that eventually released as effluent into aquatic ecosystems with unknown ecological consequences. We examined AgNP impacts on aquatic ecosystems by comparing the effects of two AgNP sizes (12 and 49 nm) to ionic silver (Ag+; added as AgNO3), a historically problematic contaminant with known impacts. Using 19 wetland mesocosms, we added Ag to the 360 L aquatic compartment to reach 2.5 mg Ag L-1. Silver treatments and two coating controls were done in triplicate, and compared to four replicate controls. All three silver treatments were toxic to aquatic plants, leading to a significant release of dissolved organic carbon and chloride following exposure. Simultaneously, dissolved methane concentrations increased forty-fold relative to controls in all three Ag treatments. Despite dramatic toxicity differences observed in lab studies for these three forms of Ag, our results show surprising convergence in the direction, magnitude, and duration of ecosystem-scale impacts for all Ag treatments. Our results suggest that all forms of Ag changed solute chemistry driving transformations of Ag which then altered Ag impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5229-5236
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 6 2014


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