Odour-free, silver-treated clothing poses toxic threat, claims report

Victoria Gallagher | 7th November 2018

STOCKHOLM – New Swedish research claims clothing treated with silver poses a toxic threat to sediment-dwelling creatures and organisms in lakes and seas. While known for its antibacterial qualities, silver is also classified as a biocide by the European Union. Swedish researchers analysed sportswear garments treated with silver and found that up to 90 per cent of the silver contained was washed away from the clothing after just ten machine washes. The research also claims the spread of silver in the environment may be contributing to the rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The report from the Swedish Water and Wastewater Association (Svenskt Vatten) points out that the antibacterial silver leaching from treated textiles is now the “largest known source of silver in effluent treatment plants.”

Silver in ionic form is hazardous to bacteria and aquatic organisms and can cause particular harm to organisms living on the bottoms of lakes and oceans such as crustaceans. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has previously published a summary of the most common biocides found in nature, and silver topped the list.

Svenskt Vatten’s report claims that after ten washes the amount of silver leached from silver-treated clothing ranged from 31–90 per cent based on laboratory analysis, with the median amount being 71 per cent.

15 garments were tested in laboratory conditions. All were labelled in some way as anti-odour and nine out of fifteen contained silver, according to the laboratory analysis. Of these nine, eight were treated with Polygiene, a patented treatment using silver chloride supplied by the Swedish company Polygiene AB.

The researchers also claim several clothing brands approached were unable to state which active biocides were used to treat their anti-odour sportswear.

Svenskt Vatten has now called for an industry phase-out all clothing and textile articles that have been treated with silver, adding that manufacturers must become much better at labelling their clothing correctly. “The labelling [should] clearly state that the garment has been treated with a biocide,” says the report.

Svenskt Vatten also says it will report stores whose labelling is inadequate to the Swedish Chemicals Agency. These include Adidas, Addnature and Fitnessbutiken.se.

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