There is potential to apply nanotechnology to almost every economic sector, including consumer products, agriculture, medicine, transportation and energy. While nano-technology has the potential to produce societal benefits, it should be a priority to better understand the ecological risks from the release of nanomaterials (NMs) into the environment. Because of its antibacterial properties, silver nanomaterials (nAg) are currently the most widely used NM in various consumer products, including socks, underwear and other clothing, shoe liners, adhesive bandages, antibacterial sprays, food storage containers, laundry additives, home appliances and paint.

Our previous laboratory research has shown that nanosilver in the aquatic environment first affect organisms at the bottom of the food chain, including bacteria (Das et al, 2012 a and b), algae and zooplankton. These responses may have devastating effects upon aquatic ecosystems by reducing overall productivity and altering the cycling of nutrients, such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. There may be compensatory mechanisms within aquatic ecosystems that can mitigate these responses, but it is impossible to predict these responses using laboratory studies.

Through support from the Strategic Grants Program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Environment Canada, a team of researchers from Trent University, Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are conducting the Lake Ecosystem Nanosilver (LENS) project at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northwestern Ontario. We will be adding nanoform silver to a small lake over two summer field seasons ion 2013-14. During nano-silver additions, we will monitor the lake for changes to nutrient cycling and the biological effects within the entire food chain. However, in 2012, before starting the lake additions, we determined what happens when nanosilver is added to mesocosms (i.e. plastic tubes) deployed in one of the ELA lakes (see above).

The photograph below shows the plume of nanosilver (blue) right after addition to one of the mesocosms.

ELA has been used for over 40 years as a living laboratory to study the effects of pollutants in the environment, including past studies of the impacts of pollution from phosphorus, acid deposition, mercury and endocrine disruptors. These studies have resulted in policies to reduce the impacts of pollution. While we do not take lightly the impact that this study will have upon a lake in ELA, this approach is the only way to determine ecosystem level impacts and to influence regulatory policy regarding the ecological risks of NMs. We are encouraged by recent initiatives to keep the ELA open for research under a new management framework. We are proposing to conduct our whole lake ecosystem study at Lake 222 (see below) at the ELA site.

Click here to learn more about this project (PDF document)...