Apr 102011
 
Ball-and-stick model of the DDT molecule, C 14...

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Queen’s researchers have discovered that nanoparticles, which are now present in everything from socks to salad dressing and suntan lotion, may have irreparably damaging effects on soil systems and the environment.

“Millions of tonnes of nanoparticles are now manufactured every year, including silver nanoparticles which are popular as antibacterial agents,” says Virginia Walker, a professor in the Department of Biology. “We started to wonder what the impact of all these nanoparticles might be on the environment, particularly on soil.”

The team acquired a sample of soil from the Arctic as part of their involvement in the International Polar Year initiative. The soil was sourced from a remote Arctic site as they felt that this soil stood the greatest chance of being uncontaminated by any nanoparticles.

“We hadn’t thought we would see much of an impact, but instead our results indicate that silver nanoparticles can be classified as highly toxic to microbial communities. This is particularly concerning when you consider the vulnerability of the arctic ecosystem.”

Dr. Walker further noted that although technological progress is important, the world has a history of welcoming innovations prior to reflecting on their impact on the environment. Such examples include the discovery of the insecticide DDT, the use of the drug thalidomide during pregnancy and the widespread use of synthetic fertilizers.

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