Nano’s silver lining is… Blue?

So you’ve developed an obsessive nano-silver Benny the Bear paw-chewing habit, and on the advice of your hairdresser, you’re quaffing silver nanoparticle suspensions by the pint.  What do you get?

Well, according to a story airing on CNN this week, what you get is… blue skin!

According to the article, Paul Karason started the transition from fair skin and freckles to a decidedly bluish hue some fourteen years ago.  The culprit it seems is regular use of nanoparticle-containing colloidal silver.

The condition – known as argyria – came to prominence in 2002 following stories of the “True Blue” senate hopeful Stan Jones, who had been imbibing home-made colloidal silver since 1999 for medical reasons.

Argyria is extremely rare. It is not life-threatening (unless your neighbors are particularly intolerant), and it seems to be associated with colloidal silver doses orders of magnitude higher than those that are generally recommended. So the chances are that the occasional suck on Benny’s paw, or a surreptitious sip of your stylist’s nano-silver elixir, will cause no harm.

But it does make you think about how emerging nanomaterials might lead to unanticipated consequences if we don’t work out the rules of safe use before making them freely available.

And as the unconstrained use of antimicrobial nano silver in products continues to grow, what about unanticipated consequences to sensitive ecosystems in the environment, where turning blue might be the least of our worries?

Although Karason admits it’s not easy living as a blue man, he is prepared to live with it for the rest of his life.  Personally, I think I would prefer to find nanotech solutions that don’t lead to the blues!


This post first appeared on the SAFENANO blog in December 2007

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