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An examination of silver nanoparticles in socks using screening-level life cycle assessment

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Screening-level life cycle assessment (LCA) can provide a quick tool to identify the life cycle hot spots and focus research efforts to help to minimize the burdens of a technology while maximizing its benefits. The use of nanoscale silver in consumer products has exploded in popularity. Although its use is considered beneficial because of antimicrobial effects, some attention must be given to the potential environmental impacts it could impart on the life cycle of these nanoproducts as production demands escalate. This work examines the environmental impact of including silver nanoparticles in commercially available socks using screening-level LCA. Initial results suggest washing during the use phase contributes substantially more than the manufacturing phase to the product life cycle impacts. Comparison of nanoparticles prepared by either chemical reduction, liquid flame spray (LFS), or plasma arc demonstrate how the type of manufacturing process used for the nanoscale silver can change the resulting life cycle impact of the sock product. The magnitude of this impact will depend on the type of process used to manufacture the nanoscale silver, with LFS having the most impact because of the need for large quantities of hydrogen and oxygen. Although the increased impacts for a single nanoproduct may be relatively small, the added environmental load can actually be a significant quantity when considered at the regional or global production level.

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The authors would like to acknowledge Jane Bare, U.S. EPA, for her help with the use of SimaPro and TRACI.

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Correspondence to David E. Meyer.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through its Office of Research and Development funded the research described here. It has not been subjected to Agency review and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency, and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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Meyer, D.E., Curran, M.A. & Gonzalez, M.A. An examination of silver nanoparticles in socks using screening-level life cycle assessment. J Nanopart Res 13, 147–156 (2011).

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